Tom Lohr has eaten a hot dog at all 30 MLB ballparks and is the author of "Gone to the Dogs: In Search of the Best Ballpark Hot Dog."
Just Baseball, Please.
If you are a baseball fan, and I mean a real baseball fan, you can't help but shake your head at what is happening at the ballpark. If you are over the age of 40, you remember when going to a game meant watching nine innings of hardball while eating a few things that were not particularly good for you. If you are younger, trust me on this—you have been cheated out of a great baseball experience.
For those of you that attended your first game in the 1990s and beyond, it wasn't always a circus of entertainment designed to keep an attention-deficient crowd constantly busy with game distracting shenanigans, it was baseball. Fans would grab a dog and a beer before the first pitch and then settle in to watch the pitcher/batter matchups, sipping beer between at bats. A brief discussion would ensue about who was fetching the next round of brewskies, and then there was the occasional bathroom break. Other than that, fans were riveted to their seats, cheering on their team and second-guessing the manager.
At some point in the late 20th century, probably when baseball began building the bulk of the slick new ballparks, someone, somewhere decided to make going to a baseball game the sports equivalent of taking the family to the carnival. Sure, a baseball game still gets played, but the next time you are at a stadium, take a look around at how many fans are really locked in. They are either standing in line to get the latest monstrosity of a calorie bomb, riding the slide/Ferris wheel/carousel at the playground, or watching some sort of nonsense on a high definition scoreboard that is the size of the planet Mercury. Need proof? Ask someone on the concourse what the score is, or better yet, who is playing. The answers you get will be depressing.
The problem is, it is getting worse. Check out the new Atlanta Braves stadium. They have constructed an entire shopping center around the ballpark complete with Disneyland-like music piped in the entire area. Chic restaurants are also part of Atlanta's abomination of placing consumerism over sport. They even have a zip line, yes, a zip line, inside the ballpark. The only thing missing is an organ donation center so fans can pay for the complete experience. And the dirty little secret that Braves fans know, and no one is talking about, is that the 17-year-old stadium they replaced was a much better baseball venue.
Just as owners and ballpark designers have diluted the baseball experience by trying to make a game a one size fits all entertainment event, they have the power to restore at least a modicum of integrity to the game with a few simple changes. Here is an eight-point plan that is easy to implement and allows every ballpark to bring back the game to those that care: baseball fans.
1. Can the Kids' Zone
This was a bad idea from the start. If you want to take your kid to the park, then take them to a real park. Actual city parks have better playground equipment and they don't charge you to park or enter. Taking a child to a ballgame to spend the bulk of it in the kids' zone is the priciest trip to the playground you will ever have. Toss in that the tot will be screaming for one of every sugar-laden treat in the stadium and you are approaching the cost of entrance at an amusement park. All while you get to watch junior play and miss most of the game.
If you do manage to get your kid back to your seats you end up with a hyped-up, sugar-fueled fidget monster that does nothing but annoy neighboring fans; the ones that are actually trying to enjoy some baseball. Now you have a pester bug that will cause you to want to leave (if they are not asking to leave already) by the 6th inning.
Make Sure Your Kid(s) Understand the Game.
It's not that I am against taking kids to the ballgame. In fact, I encourage it. But only if your kid really likes and understands baseball. While I have seen a nine-year-old talk about his team in impressive detail while sitting in a seat next to me, most kids under the age of ten have little interest other than the snacks and mascots.
Ask your kid three questions.
- Who is your favorite player?
- What position does he play?
- How many games out of first place is your team?
If your kiddo can answer those questions correctly, bring them to the game. If not, for the sake of all fans and your wallet, take them to the local playground.
2. Get Rid of the Gimmicks
Even hardcore fans welcomed the addition of larger and higher definition scoreboards. The wealth of information displayed for each batter is amazing and gives viewers a useful breakdown of information. Adding pitch count, velocity, and sometimes even the type of pitch thrown were good additions to stadium displays. During the game, scoreboards are, for the most part, put to good use.
Make the Scoreboards About the Game Again.
Between innings, ballparks have transformed the giant jumbotrons into massive annoyances. There are entertaining games like the three-card Monte version of hide the baseball under the hat and then guess which one it is under after scrambling them around. Stupid player interviews with mundane information such as “what is your favorite food,” or some boring fan interactive contest where the contestant wins something mostly worthless.
A better use of scoreboard downtime is giving updates on player injuries, scores of games that impact the home team's status in the standings, developments in the farm clubs, or highlights from the previous day's game. You know, something meaningful to baseball.
3. Nix the Walkup Music
Frankly, I don't care what a player's favorite song is, or what type of music gets him charged up for his at bat. Even when I do like the song, which I usually don't, fans hear just enough of it to entice their rhythm, and then it fades out. Most ballplayers make well over a million a year, but that still does not entitle them to force fans to sample music they don't give a hoot about.
As far as personal branding is concerned, hit over .300, and I will automatically know when you are coming to the plate; without announcing yourself with ten seconds of some crappy song. Do you know what Mickey Mantle's walkup song was? Didn't think so.
4. Reel in the Concessions
When baseball was baseball, fans got either a regular dog, peanuts, a pretzel, cracker jacks, popcorn, beer or soda. That was pretty much it. If you needed water there was a drinking fountain somewhere in the ballpark. Now it has gotten way out of hand. While fans welcomed some improvements on traditional ballpark fare, it has become pretty ludicrous.
A better selection of beer is great. Even adding some local brews is a good thing. Frankly, in the old days, most of the beer was flat and one of the national brands. Better beer was a win. Same with bumping up the hot dogs. Better condiments, better brands of franks, and better specialty dogs all make for an enhanced traditional baseball outing. Pizza was a welcome addition. As were some of the burgers.
Then came all sorts of crap. Nachos for one. What the hell is that yellow stuff on ballpark nachos anyway? Because it sure as hell isn't cheese. Then there is also sushi. Sushi? At a ballgame? Here is a tip for avoiding food poisoning: Never buy seafood at a place whose traditional fare is hot dogs.
5. Skip "God Bless America"
While not every ballpark does this, many do. In addition to, or instead of, singing the anticipated "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the seventh stretch, in an effort to show fans how patriotic teams really are, they throw in this sappy national favorite. Then, they ask that fans stand up for it. Firstly, "God Bless America" is NOT our national anthem. Secondly, if teams were really concerned about demonstrating how patriotic they were, they would do it with their wallets. The St Louis Cardinals do it right. They have given me, as a veteran, free tickets on numerous occasions. And the Cardinals have some expensive tickets.
Personally, I don't stand for "God Bless America." But I'm no Colin Kaepernick. I do stand at attention, facing the flag, for our national anthem, but that's where I draw the line. And thank you, St. Louis, for showing us how teams show true patriotism without making a huge deal of it.
6. Get Rid of the Replay
Do umps miss calls? You bet they do. But they also missed them when DiMaggio played, and Hank Aaron, and Willie Stargell . . . you get the picture. Baseball did just fine without the replay. In the end, some of the missed calls went your team's way, some against, but it all evened out in the end. Just because we have the technology to do something doesn't mean we should. We can make regular cars off of the sales lot go 250 mph, but that isn't a good idea either.
Plus, it slows down the game in an era where we are trying to get the game back to the length it was when baseball really was baseball. Stopping play while some guys in New York review the video doesn't bring anything to the sport. As a compromise, I might be amenable to using it for postseason play, where one missed call could have serious implications. Other than that, if you want video in your game, get a PlayStation.
7. Place a Quick Hand on the Ejection Handle
As salaries exploded, so did players' egos. Nothing says “I'm a big shot and know better than you” than some hot head arguing balls and strikes with an umpire. It makes the players look childish and degrades the sportsmanship of the game, and it gets worse every season. Umps should toss a player if they even look at them sideways at the plate. After a few weeks of quick trips to the locker room, players will get the picture and stop acting likes princesses.
8. Get Rid of Mascots
I can find some leeway for the minor leagues, but major league baseball is serious business. Mascots are for kids, and you can read above how we feel about kids at the ballpark. If you want to see a clown, go to the circus.
You Will Thank Me Later
There you go folks, ways to return the game of baseball back to the fans that actually enjoy it. This is by no means a comprehensive list, and much more could be done to improve upon the game. But it is a start, and it might actually lure real fans back to the ballpark.
© 2017 Tom Lohr
Tom Lohr (author) from Magdalena, NM on September 04, 2019:
I think a trip to the amusement park would be more in order for those folks. And while they are in line to get their ticket for the roller coaster or buy some cotton candy, tell them to stay the hell away from the ballpark. Its a ballpark, not a playground. I am reminded of this every time some person stands up in front of me during play, or just has to get that bag of kettle corn before the current batter is done batting. They should save themselves the money and real baseball fans the headache and entertain themselves elsewhere.
Nick on September 04, 2019:
The actual game has not changed, however, the stadium experience has especially in Minor League Baseball where a large majority of fans do not come to watch every pitch and analyze the matchups because the player turnover is so high. If the stadium experience changed to how you want it, nobody would come to games... tens of thousands of people would be out of jobs, ballparks would become vacant lots and the farm system of the game you love would die. Over the past 15 years, Minor League Baseball is one of the fastest-growing sports industries. This is due to everything you just railed against. For those who are baseball purists like yourself, you can still order a hot dog and beer and watch the game, just like old times.
Thoughts on May 28, 2018:
Hi Tom, I really like the article.
I think you need to go a little easier on some of the nice amenities we have at the park now. Unique food and good local beer always makes me happy, and I am happy to pay ballpark prices for local goods. Mascots are fun, identified with by the fans and make for great bobble heads on my desk; keep them. On mouthy players, I love it. Baseball needs more spunk, bat flipping and brawls. It shows that the players care and aren't there for just a paycheck. The other junk can go, replay, kid zones, walk up music etc. Keep up to good work
Tom Lohr (author) from Magdalena, NM on September 24, 2017:
Teri, you saw Sudden Sam play? I am super jealous. Also, mucho respect for being a fan during the lean years for the Tribe. I detest fair-weather fans. It sounds like you have had a life enriched by the game of baseball, that is a life well lived. I agree with all of your points and are very well made. I too miss the double headers. Thank for the reply.
Teri Silver from The Buckeye State on September 24, 2017:
Nice article. I agree with most of your points. I have been a diehard Cleveland Indians fan my entire life, having seen my first game under the age of two years old. (Joe Azcue was my favorite guy, then. Sam McDowell and Rocky C came later). I spent season after season in the 1970s and 1980s with a losing team, but we went to many games each year (having a share of season tickets). My husband and I got engaged at Municipal Stadium with a message on the scoreboard (1989). Times must change, yes, but not all for the better. Here’s my list — not in any particular order.
* Bring back true doubleheaders (especially on Sundays) where you can see at least 18 innings of baseball with a 20 minute break between games. The “day-night” doubleheaders are hard on the players and just another way for owners to gouge the public. Give the public some value for those high ticket prices. Some of my most precious memories were Sunday doubleheaders with my dad on Father’s Day.
* The cost of a ballgame is outrageous for fans; even with “special family rates.” Let’s say you buy four decent-seat tickets, concessions, souvenirs and parking — that can equal the cost of a car payment! Sure, I get it — prices go up everywhere, and the cost of any kind of entertainment is expensive. But this is supposed to be America’s Pastime. Only for those who can afford it!
* This is more for Major League Baseball, but pick one: the Designated Hitter for both leagues or none. It isn’t fair for American League pitchers who never do so, to have to bat in a National League game. It’s too advantageous for National League hitters to get a better opportunity for a base hit in an AL park. Personally, I’d like to see the DH go away completely. When the pitchers bat, it makes for some interesting managerial decisions. Either way … pick one.
* Again for the MLB: I know a lot of people like interleague-play. I am not one of them. For teams to only meet other teams in their division or league a few times or less per season, it takes away from true rivalry. One of the fun things about the World Series is to see two teams that don’t play each other face off for the big prize. But that is long gone.
* Bad calls are part of baseball but I’m OK with the replay on close calls (as long as it’s not balls and strikes). However, I don’t like it that Intentional Walks no longer go through the motions. It takes way from Pitch Counts.
* Ah, one more MLB note: throw us a bone and bring back some games to be telecast on “regular” TV channels. I don’t have cable/satellite and I won’t watch a game on my small notebook computer, especially because you want me to pay for it. Free games on TV will help bring in new audiences, especially kids.
* Autographs used to be free and easy to get. Although some players do sign autographs before ballgames, now, organizations have events that require people to pay a lot of money for autograph sessions, and these people may or may not get their share, based on attendance and time factor. I don’t mind when these events are specific fundraisers for community organizations, but in many cases, it’s just about someone trying to make a buck. Quite disturbing.
* Fake grass; make it go away. It’s hard on the players and leads to more injuries.
* Dear stadium concessionaire, If you’re going to charge me $8 for a hot dog, please make it all-beef Kosher!
There are more, and I’m sure I’ll say … “darn, I forgot to add this,” later. Bottom line is, the high salaries, money-grubbing networks and owners, expensive extras (like FOOD) and over-all elitist attitude when it comes to bringing Major League Baseball to the masses has surely taken its toll on the game. It is my dream to see a World Series game … cannot afford it. But I’ll still be with my Cleveland Indians to the end. Go Tribe!
Angel Guzman from Joliet, Illinois on September 22, 2017:
I agree God Bless America needs to go. We already have the National Anthem. I would lower ticket and concession prices as I feel average working class Americans are being priced out. I see greed!
CJ Kelly from the PNW on September 21, 2017:
Awesome ideas. I voted for doing away w/replay. The game is slow enough. We can all deal w/missed calls.
For the kids, I like the idea of allocating 5 games a year for "kids day," with half price tickets. Think KC tried it 10 years ago. They are making money even w/falling ratings and attendance.
I actually like the mascots. I only a hot dog, but folks go crazy w/the food at Safeco and I can only imagine it's the same for the new parks as well.