The Chicago Cubs are still in spring training, where most of the games are meaningless in so far as the results don’t matter so much as the process. As long as nobody gets hurt and everyone gets their work in, it will all be okay come Opening Day.
In other corners of the world, though, there are some meaningful games being played even if some of us don’t acknowledge their importance. For example, down in Mexico, Cubs super-utility man and all-around cool guy Javier Baez is making an impact for Team Puerto Rico as they remain one of a handful of undefeated teams in the World Baseball Classic. In the wee hours of Saturday night, before the clocks changed, this happened:
— MLB Network (@MLBNetwork) March 12, 2017
The swing was majestic, the flight of the baseball was magnificent, and the reaction from the team and from their fans in the crowd was loud and exuberant. That is the way baseball was meant to be played in my opinion, and obviously in the opinions of many in attendance, and many more who were watching on their preferred devices. Whether it was the portion of the planet affixed to Team Puerto Rico crushing the remaining life out of Team Mexico, or the other portion captivated by former Cub Fernando Rodney‘s rally plantain as Team Dominican Republic led a furious comeback against Team USA, we can observe a common thread that illustrates the appeal of baseball to global fans, and to us fans of the Cubs:
It certainly helps that our favorite club is stuffed to the gills with talented young players (who stand to stay talented for a very long time). It also helps that, at least for now, all of them seem to be very good guys. That’s likely one of many reasons why Theo Epstein focused so much on player makeup in rebuilding the organizational philosophy, because it’s much easier to market nice guys than terrible people. The personalities also help a bunch, with guys like Javier Baez doing his antics on the field and off, with much of the team active on social media (and they’re great follows!), and their continued dedication to their community.
Baseball is, at its core, a kid’s game. We watch because we used to play the game as kids, and we enjoy seeing great athletic feats performed on the field by players who are magnitudes greater at this game than we ever could hope to be. It is much more refreshing to see these players enjoy themselves as we used to when we were kids, whether it is by laughing with or at each other (without malice, one would hope), or celebrating a pivotal play in their own way. These are things that we can all surely relate to.
Or maybe some of us can’t relate to it. Maybe some of us can never be content, and instead live our lives as grumpy old men (or women). Folks like this, for example:
A meaningless home run in a meaningless game https://t.co/FHmEQAYCNX
— Patrick Stankus (@Patrick_Stankus) March 12, 2017
Not to mention, Baez is everything that is wrong in sports nowadays https://t.co/EqX8RAvtts
— Patrick Stankus (@Patrick_Stankus) March 12, 2017
Now, I’m not that young, and I’m getting to the point in my life where I’m starting to feel the effects of aging on my body. I ran around with my high school baseball students last week and can still feel the soreness today. It’s not that I’m that out of shape or anything, I’m just not as limber as I used to be with nearly four decades of wear and tear on this body. But the whole point of baseball, and other sports, especially at this level, is to have fun.
I would argue that seeing guys like Javy and Francisco Lindor and a host of big names from Team Dominicana smack homers around is the very definition of fun. I also think that fun is enhanced when we can see them show genuine joy and excitement at what they just did, a reaction that permeates into the crowd and amplifies our fun factor almost without limits. Setting weird etiquette to restrict these reactions is the antithesis of fun.
If we hypothesize that the vast majority of the anti-fun crowd is grumpy old men, then it is no wonder that Major League Baseball fans are trending older and older. A lack of fun, even in an era where we see some of the best baseball talent ever assembled, is counterproductive to growing the sport. And when MLB is more focused on trimming mere seconds or minutes from a game rather than promoting fun, it’s not difficult to see why they are having trouble attracting new fans. It is almost as if they have forgotten how it felt to be a kid and just have fun in a game, like this kid from the Little League World Series a couple years ago. Seriously, just look at him…he just saw his offering launched into orbit, and can’t help but to marvel at just how far that baseball went. It seems like so much less effort to just shrug it off and try again than to plan retribution later on because some made-up rule was violated. Sadly, that’s the view held by a subset of players, including one of our own…
— NESN (@NESN) March 8, 2017
It’s too bad that some people can’t appreciate youthful exuberance (even though, as 20-ish and 30-ish year old men, they aren’t that youthful anymore) and take things too seriously, like they did with our (not so subtle) spoof article. Maybe we need to loosen up a bit and just have fun like when we were kids. I don’t think it would hurt.
I suppose that, like Javy, instead of flipping my bat, I’ll just set it down and await your comments later.
"This bat has completed its mission." pic.twitter.com/AzRAwnb01n
— Randall J. Sanders (@RandallJSanders) March 12, 2017