Eight Ways Ballparks Can Return Baseball to the Fans
Just Baseball, Please.
If you are a baseball fan, 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 match ups, 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 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.
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.
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 days 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 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, 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.
What do you think is the best way to improve the experience at the ballpark?
Questions & Answers
© 2017 Tom Lohr