An open letter to the game of baseball:
I’ll be the first to admit, my initial attraction to you was superficial. I was thrilled that after each Little League game, i could exchange a ticket for a snow cone or a hot dog, and that our coach would often take us for Slurpees after the game. Win or lose, i was satisfied with the bubble gum, dirtying up a uniform with my friends, and the end-of-the-year pizza parties.
I was infatuated with you.
That infatuation morphed into a deeper, more substantive interest. I came to enjoy your sounds - the crack of a bat when solid contact was made, and the pop of a mitt when a fastball reached its target. I drew pleasure from the smell of freshly cut grass, getting to the ballpark early to play pepper & flip, and the camaraderie that was building with my teammates and i.
A deeper interest piqued.
That interest transformed into love when i gained a deeper understanding of your nuances.
I loved that you had no time limit, and that a pitcher utilizing a prolonged hold in the set position would frustrate and decrease the success rate of a would-be base stealer. I loved the potential for “FREE BASEBALL,” and that two teams tied after 9 innings would have to duke it out for as long as it took for a winner to emerge naturally.
I loved how the dimensions of your field synced so well together. 60’6” to home plate and your mound height of 10” seemed to offer the perfect balance of advantage/disadvantage to both pitcher and batter.
I loved that a hard slide into second base could break up a double play, extend an inning, and lead to a game-deciding run. I loved the triumph in a catcher’s face when holding onto the tag after getting trucked at home plate.
I loved watching Larry Walker go from first to third on a single, and that it was technique and instincts that got him there. It didn’t matter that he wasn’t the fastest guy in the world. I loved watching Rickey Henderson thwart pickoff attempt after pickoff attempt only to easily steal a base moments later. And conversely, I loved that a pickoff move was every bit as much of a weapon in the arsenal of Julio Teherán, Mark Buehrle, and Clayton Kershaw, as were their fastballs.
I loved the chess match in the middle to late innings where a relief pitcher could come in and get one out for his team in a tight spot. That crucial out could mean the difference in a ballgame. I thought Randy Myers, John Candelaria, and Jesse Orosco were rockstars. I loved that guys like Javier Lopez could mesmerize left handed batters with an 85 mph fastball, and eek out a 14 year career - playing a big role for 4 championship teams.
I loved the art in a catcher receiving a low or inside pitch well. Sal Fasano or Charles Johnson earning their pitcher a borderline strike call was every bit as beautiful to me as Ken Griffey Jr’s sweet swing.
I loved that you taught me values such as humility, compassion, integrity, loyalty, patient perseverance, and the value in placing the team above the individual.
But you’ve changed.
Now you’re in a hurry to get your games over with. There’s a pitch clock in place, and you’re adding a runner at second base to the start of an extra inning. What’s your rush?
You want to push the mound back and lower it while you’re at it? If i wanted to see football scores, i’d watch football. Maybe i will.
You’ve softened yourself. There was seldom malicious intent on a hard slide into second base, or a barrel roll of a catcher. Why not up the level of your protective equipment rather than decreasing your physicality?
You’re removing skill from yourself. Why don’t you make baserunners/base stealers earn the extra/stolen base? How can you expect a pitcher to effectively control the running game when you’ve neutered his ability to do so?
You’re lumping all pitchers into the same mold. Sure, hard throwers are exciting, but isn’t there room for the crafty lefty?
You’re eliminating mastery. With electronic strike zones, there’s no longer a need to receive pitches well. You’ve, in essence, made the catcher position a 2nd DH. One DH is already one too many.
Furthermore, you’ve exchanged players like Tony Gwynn - who would give everything they had to put the ball in play - for guys who strike out 200 times per year, but hit dingers. Whoopee. You’ve swapped out guys like Cal Ripken Jr. who would tweak their technique - changing a batting stance year after year in the hopes of gaining some ground - for guys who will simply cheat in order to gain an advantage. Super. You’ve traded, “put your head down and run,” and “act like you’ve done it before,” for bat flips and King Kong chest poundings. You’ve dealt instincts in favor of analytics. You’ve exchanged gamesmanship for classlessness.
You don’t attract new interest to yourself by attempting to make yourself more exciting. You were perfect the way you were. You used to gain new interest by having kids who love to play, and those kids would continue to relish their playing days and cherish you as they age. We ruined that for you by burning them out with 100-game seasons at age nine.
Even still, you shouldn’t have changed.
We’ve grown apart. I don’t think i recognize you anymore. I’ll always have fond memories of the way you once were, and the way we were together, but i think it’s time we head our separate ways.
Ryan Speier is a professional pitching instructor in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He played professionally for 12 seasons, was a member of the 2007 National League Champion, Colorado Rockies, and has coached at the NCAA Division-I level. Ryan is a dad, husband, and follower of Jesus Christ. Find Ryan on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/SpeierBaseball/