Baseball as a Metaphor for Our Times: Interview with a Bored Goddess
Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" Today, once again, we are talking baseball, the all-American game, pure as apple pie. Nothing quite like finding a good seat in an airy ballpark, with your bag of peanuts and cup of beer, to watch a sporting event featuring young, good-looking men who move like panthers!
One of my legion of commenters noted that baseball is a metaphor for life on many levels. Absolutely correct! Give that intelligent person a pie!
Sadly, today's American baseball also reflects what's wrong with our country -- how out-of-control things have become. Here today to discuss this matter with me is a bored Goddess who has every right to hold a grudge against American sports. We've talked before, and She is a delight. Please give a warm, wonderful, "Gods Are Bored" welcome to Nike, Goddess of Victory sacred to the Ancient Greek peoples!
Anne: Well, Nike, we've talked about this before, but it bears repeating. Your name is associated with a brand of sporting equipment, made by child labor in Third World countries and sold at inflated prices to people who think they're getting something special, when really they're not.
Nike: I would curse everyone who wears the "swoosh," but that would cause a lot of havoc. I have restrained myself.
Anne: Admirable, dear Goddess. Today I would like to talk with you about the sorry state of American spectator sports, with emphasis on baseball.
Nike: I like baseball. It beats naked Spartan wrestling by a country mile. Better a man in tight pants than a naked one. It exercises the imagination.
Anne: Agreed! Although I must say I fondly remember the Jim Palmer Jockey Shorts posters.
Nike: MmmmMMMMMmmmm. Me too!
Anne: Have you noticed, Nike, that professional baseball has followed the trend of modern American, almost in a lock-step?
Nike: Oh yes indeed. Sometimes, to make a little spending money, I sell beer in Yankee Stadium. Remember, I don't get a single dime from the merchandise that bears my name.
Anne: Neither does the lady who designed the "swoosh." Anyway, let's do a little tandem bitching here, okay? We'll call it "Baseball as a Metaphor for What's Wrong with America." You go first.
Nike: Ticket prices for professional sporting events are out of reach of middle class families. A dad can't take his three kids to the ballpark anymore unless he has seriously planned and budgeted for the event.
Anne: New baseball stadiums have been built around the concept of corporate boxes for high-rollers. People use those boxes, but not for watching baseball. In the meantime, as you said, ordinary folks can't afford to get inside the park.
Nike: This reflects the trend towards a polarized society, where the rich reap out-sized rewards, and the poor and middle-class make sacrifices.
Anne: In modern ballparks, fancy computerized scoreboards run constantly during the game and are especially loud and bright between innings. It's like a video game in the outfield, chock-a-block with subliminal advertising.
Nike: This reflects an overall reduction in attention span among the American populace. Most fans, if they were to be transported back in time to the years of your childhood, Anne, would be bored to tears by baseball.
Anne: When I went to see the Baltimore Orioles with my dad in 1969, the scoreboard had been made automatic, number-wise, but that was the end of it. Between innings we watched Brooks Robinson stretch his hamstrings.
Nike: Great guy. And a good example of another downturn in America's game. Today's pro players are beefed up on steroids, way overpaid for what they do, and they're arrogant and rude. Remember how Brooks Robinson used to take you little-old-lady neighbor out to lunch and get her seats behind the plate?
Anne: I sure do! When one of my best friends was dying, Brooks called him on the phone and talked to him. Oh well, not many people measure up to Brooks Robinson, let's face it. But it's true that the modern baseball player is a chemical nightmare with a bad temper.
Nike: This represents the American desperation to be a financial success at any cost. And having found that success, to act like the others who have also found it -- completely aloof.
Anne: Little kids never pick up a baseball game on a sandlot anymore. They're driven into Little Leagues, where their fathers yell and curse at the umpires.
Nike: This reflects the regimentation of American childhood. Kids don't just "play" sports anymore. They have to have uniforms, and schedules, and coaches, and parents watching. Did anyone watch when the kids in your neck of the woods played baseball and football in the cow pasture?
Anne: Nope. And no one got hurt either. Well, there were a few fights. But that was between kids. No adults intervened, and we worked it out ourselves.
Nike: At the same time that sporting events have become regimented and unaffordable, they have been elevated to a level of worship in some quarters.
Anne: Absolutely correct, dear Goddess. In my youth, a Sunday soccer league would have been unthinkable. Nowadays, even the busy god is seeing His praise and worship team eroded by Sunday sports. Not that we didn't play sports on Sunday when I was a kid. It's just that it was un-regimented, and we played in the afternoon, after church, when all the adults were napping.
Nike: You know what makes me sick? Corporate names on ball parks. Here in Philadelphia, it used to be Franklin Field. Veterans' Stadium. Now it's Citizens Bank Park. Excuse me while I hack up a fur ball. (Ugly noises)
Anne: Joining you on the hack. (Ugly noises) I have never set foot in Citizens Bank Park, and I don't intend to. For one thing, I can't afford a ticket. And even the minor league ballparks are named for corporations now! They too have the garish scoreboards and all sorts of between-inning distractions! And get this, Nike: At the Lakewood Blue Claws -- a single-A affiliate -- I paid eight bucks for a seat on grass, behind the foul pole! There was no general admission seating except a grassy knoll! Single A. How long until even the minors get too expensive for a family of four?
Nike: One last observation, and I must fly. When teams win big championships, like the World Series, riots erupt in the winning cities. Cars get burnt. In Detroit in 1984, a guy got shot and killed -- during a celebration.
Anne: This reflects the middle- and lower-class frustration with daily life. There's so much rage, and no way to vent it constructively. Nike, what are we to do about all of this?
Nike: Sad to say, things will crash and burn. I've seen it happen before, trust me. I don't need to advise you to encourage your kids to play outside, creating their own games using their imaginations. You did that. But if any of your three readers have children, they should do the same. And instead of shelling out for a baseball game, take the family hiking, or on a picnic. You may have to pay a little bit to park, but think about having that whole six-pack of Coors for the price of one small cup at the ballpark!
Anne: MmmMMMMmmm. And better food too! I could buy three bags of Planters trail mix for the price of a little sack of Blue Claw peanuts.
Nike: Anne, you have to start thinking outside the ballpark.
Anne: Yeah, I'm working on it. Thank you for visiting, Great Goddess Nike! Here's a bottle of Gatorade for your trouble!
Nike: Thanks. And I'll be sure to leave the empty in your recycle bin.
Well, sports fans, this was kind of a downer, huh? Nike is justifiably bitter, and so am I. But bitterness is not the name of the game here! Tomorrow I'll take another walk down my baseball memory lane, and then -- pinky promise -- back to the work of the bored gods!