April 1, 2013

Take me out to the ballgame, but . . .

. . . could you please turn down the electronic noise? We're trying to watch the game here.

In honor of opening day, I dug this out of my drafts. It was written in the summer of 2011.

***

Yesterday, my husband and I and a few of the kids made our annual visit to Nationals Park to see the Chicago Cubs (our team) play (and lose to) the Nats. The DC team's four year-old park has some nice features and the staff is super-helpful, especially if, like one of our kids, you happen to be walking with crutches. But the incessant sensory output in the form of amped-up music and electronic goadings to participate is a constant annoyance. The assumption (not a new development in baseball, but one that's reaching critical mass in DC, and for all I know, in every other modern park) is that the game by itself can't possibly hold our attention. We need the electronic equivalent of a carnival barker, continuously entreating us to clap, cheer, and "show 'em what we've got."

Then there's the sponsorship of every kind of baseball event, no matter how minute (the Allstate insurance run, the Jiffy Lube pitching change, etc.), which is choking TV and radio broadcasts like kudzu and now invading live games as well. My favorite from last night: every time a Cubs player struck out (and it wasn't exactly a rarity), the electronic signs wreathing the park declared that yet another "Smithfield Summer Spiral Ham Strikeout" had been achieved.

Speaking of hams, the hometown heroes are featured in their own cheesy videos, played for the faithful each and every time they come up to bat. The idea, I guess, is to present these guys as rock stars, dramatically swinging away and sporting a blank but vaguely menacing expression that makes them all look exactly the same. Putting on that face must be a trick cultivated by promising athletes beginning in T-ball and brushed up on, along with base-running, bunting, and fielding ground balls, every spring. But the videos didn't work for me or my daughter, who said her eyes were getting tired from rolling them so much.

Lest you think I'm a complete crank, I'll admit that I do enjoy some of the gimmicks. The inane Presidents Race is irresistibly silly.


And there's something mildly compelling about watching other people watch themselves on the jumbo screen. But I wish whoever's at the controls would make better use of that huge screen for replays. I think most fans would like to see the entire five seconds of that out at the plate, not just the first four. And any close or thrilling play ought to be re-shown, not just the ones that make the home team look good.

I suppose the continuous audiovisual hammering is what fans want, though when I said that to my husband he wasn't so sure, and wondered whether anyone had asked them. How lovely it would be to sit in the park on a summer night, listening to nothing but straightforward announcements of who's batting, a little organ music now and then, the unprompted responses of the crowd to the action on the field  ("Soriano, you bum!"), and the thwack of ball against bat. While I'm fantasizing, a Cubs win once in a while would be nice, too.

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