SEATTLE — The Red Sox open their season Thursday at T-Mobile Park, and Chris Sale will get the ball as they attempt to become the first major league team since the 1998-2000 New York Yankees to win back-to-back World Series.
Life is good.
For many of us, life is better when there is baseball.
It is our heartbeat. It is our routine. Mock us if you must, but there is a significant portion of the population that feels energized and involved when there is baseball. The box scores are one of our four major food groups.
It’s owed to continuity and routine. There has been Major League Baseball for 150 years, and it is the only professional sport in which the team of your choice offers daily programming for six months.
The late, great Earl Weaver once attempted to calm a young, overreactive baseball scribe by telling him, “Settle down. We do this every day,’’ and I have come to believe that it is the daily drumbeat of baseball that satisfies and connects its fans.
Starting Thursday, the Red Sox will play 11 games in 11 days. This is the beauty and banality of baseball. For fans listening and watching back in New England, most of these games are going to be settled after midnight. But if fans can’t stay awake, it will be one of the first things they check in the morning.
Clearly, any single game is not that big of a deal in a 162-game regular season. But the lateness and relative insignificance of these first games will not diminish the mission of Sox fans: Starting Thursday, there is something to follow. There will be a daily need to know.
How did the Sox do last night? Is Andrew Benintendi getting the job done in the leadoff spot? How’s Mookie doing in the 2-hole? What’s up with the bullpen? Can Matt Barnes or Ryan Brasier be a big league closer? Are the Sox going to pay a price for letting Craig Kimbrel and Joe Kelly walk without any proven replacements? Why was the Sox offseason a study in still life? Should we be worried about a spring record of 12-17-1? Will the Yankees miss the World Series for an entire decade for the first time since the 1910s? Will the Mariners break the longest active playoff drought (2001) among all 30 teams?
Baseball fans in 2019 are something akin to Richard Nixon’s Silent Majority in 1972 — sensible brown shoes in a world of sequined, 5-inch stiletto heels.
The NFL and the NBA are masters of social media and ego-driven drama. Football and basketball stars bask in the pulsating lights of pop culture and the Worldwide Leader’s contrived infomercial programming. Meanwhile, baseball stars toil in relative anonymity. ESPN the Magazine’s current ranking of the 100 biggest names in sports includes only one baseball player. Bryce Harper was a pathetic No. 99.
Anyone seen a kid with baseball cards flapping in the spokes of his/her bicycle recently?
Or course not. Nor will you see random games of baseball on the diamonds that dot our landscape. These days, it’s either AAU, organized games supervised by adults . . . or empty fields.
Old-fashioned hardball is endangered in a culture of smartphones and smart-asses who have no sense of history. The sport is out of touch with the times in which we live. The games are too long, there are too many bad teams, pitching has become too dominant, there are too many strikeouts, and not enough balls are put into play.
MLB’s demographic is heavy on Lawrence Welk, light on Kendrick Lamar. No sport can thrive and survive with a fan base of card-carrying AARP members.
Still, it has endured for 150 years. And for many of us, it still matters.
Mike Trout just got a contract extension that makes his deal worth more than $420 million. The Los Angeles Angels can pay that because a lot of folks in Southern California still watch baseball games on television (and in person). The Angels take in $150 million per season in local television revenue. This is the same formula that supports a team in Tampa-St. Petersburg — a faceless team that plays its games in the worst baseball stadium ever built.
People still watch the games. They care about their local teams.
There were Red Sox fans on my flight from Boston to Seattle. Waiting for bags at Sea-Tac Airport, a gentleman reminded me that the Sox opened their season in Seattle back in 2000. He remembered that Pedro Martinez beat the Mariners, 2-0, with seven innings of two-hit pitching. The fan matter-of-factly told me that Pedro fanned 11 and Derek Lowe had a two-inning save. It was as if he were reciting the names of his own children.
I looked it up. This Sox fan was 100 percent accurate on every fact. From one game in April. Nineteen years ago.
This is baseball. And starting Thursday, fans again have something that makes their lives more enjoyable.