One of the pleasures of traveling to Arizona is sitting beside a person at a ballgame who really knows what we are looking at’s about.
It’s getting harder, as my friend’s Professional Ballplayers of Tomorrow grandchildren get older and have better things to do than hang out with someone fifty-plus years their senior, bugging them with questions concerning the intricacies of the game.
And throwing in Old Guy-trying-too-hard stupid stuff, as well. Like, “If I learn how to clap encouragingly could I make it as a First Base coach? (Because it seems like that’s all they do.) I didn’t even look after I asked that. I didn’t need to. I could sense the ripples of forbearance radiating in my direction.
As usual, I learned many things from my “Baseball Professor.” I was shown how an uneven “hop” (bounce) of a not particularly hard-hit ground ball had sent the ball scooting between the third baseman’s legs for an embarrassing error.
I was apprised at the subtle positioning of the players and how one batter had cannily foiled the other team’s defensive strategy by bunting safely for a hit.
I was instructed to keep an eye on the third base coach, relaying the manager’s codified “signs” to the runner, standing at first. (So at least they do more than just clap. I bet the first base coach does too. Such as asking the runner, “Did you pick up that sign?” I still think I could do that job. If they let me sit down when I got tired.)
My “Professor” was studious, serious and savvy. (And those are just the “s’s”.) Though I learned a lot – and always do – one sage – continuing the “s” motif – remark resonated above every other pronouncement I received that sunbaked Arizona afternoon, its implications applying not just to baseball but to everyday existence as well, which – it (virtually) goes without saying – is my favorite kind of resonating pronouncement.
I was asking about Angels superstar Mike Trout, then at the plate, about what made him the, arguably, greatest player in the game. The terse three-word response was “genetics and practice”, which I accepted, although I sensed there were other “intangibles” triggering Trout’s recognized superiority. Maybe that’s why they are hard to put your finger on – they are intangible. The generalizing equivalent of “et cetera.” Or, maybe it’s just hard to explain. Or, if you are a beleaguered teenage ballplayer peppered with ludicrous questions, “I don’t knowwwwwww!!!”
About to mention some former icons of the game – searching for a “greatness” common denominator – I was cut off by these words – the aforementioned resonating pronouncement. I was told,
“It’s not the same game.”
To which my knee-jerk reaction, was
It’s baseball. The enduring American Pastime. The game they played during breaks in the Civil War, although the dueling opponents were unlikely “North vs. South.” They had enough of that on the battlefield.
Baseball was forever. Or so I believed. I mean, what’s changed? It is still “Three strikes and you’re out.” It is still ninety feet between the bases. It is still a distinguishingly “clockless” competition –you play till somebody wins. Because of its structural eternality, baseball courts intergenerational conversation, elders regaling “the kids” endlessly – or so it feels to the kids – about the unparalleled prowess of Ted Williams and Willie Mays.
And now I am hearing,
“It’s not the same game.”
And the reason?
“It’s way faster.”
Instinctively, if you are old, you want to credit the dismissal of those who have gone before these opinionated youngsters – which, by association, dismisses me – to youthful incognizance. They never saw those other guys play. How could they reasonably write them off?
But, thinking it over, it’s true.
The game is way faster. (Except for how long it takes to complete one.)
They’re pitching a hundred miles an hour. The players are stronger, and, yes, faster. With increasing attention to nutrition and conditioning – including pilates for heightened flexibility – I wonder what Mickey Mantle would have thought about pilates – the current ballplayers are superhero-like specimen, compared to that all-time “Standard of Excellence”, Babe Ruth, who wolfed down fistfuls of hotdogs, and stayed fit chasing the ladies.
You cannot compare eras because baseball has radically changed… was the loud-and-clear message I was receiving. I was presented with a definitive “Dividing Line” – Ken Griffey Jr. – whose career, I was assured, bridged the legendary slowpokes of Yesteryear and the chiseled cyborgs of today.
This illuminating awareness inevitably got me to thinking,
What about television writing?
And yep, I quickly decided, there, as well,
It is not the same game.
Writing comedy is generically different. It’s not just the contemporary references, the antipathy towards traditional “joke” formulations, the necessary ironic dismissiveness.
Their brains’ processing systems – meaning, the writers’ and the audiences’ – are faster. The connections come quicker. Comedy is still about surprising the audience. But now, with their souped-up mental proclivities – and who says “souped-up” anymore? – they are considerably harder to surprise.
You set up to proceed someplace and their listless reactions reflect,
I don’t know what line of endeavor you find yourselves in.
But whatever it is,
Dollars to donuts,
With the inexorable advancements – technologically and intellectually –
It is not the same game.
They are not disrespectful “young whippersnappers.”