By Brian Connor
They started testing out the stadium lights last week, at least the top row. Most important and oldest of the things first. Next I came home from work to see the blue neon glow of the Wintrust sign atop the jumbotron visible again: I say jumbotron because to call it a scoreboard gives it the impression it could even compete with its iconic counterpart in center. Finally they turned that TV on in full, testing templates for what looked like starting pitchers before turning it off. This week all parts will be firing on all cylinders.
I live about as east as you can go in Chicago, in a northern enough disposition that allows Wrigley Field to be visible from my apartment. For reasons I’m not quite sure of, the team leaves the stadium lights on all night following any home games, day or night. It’s worth mentioning the irony of my particular rooting interest- I sing a song of good guys wear black, of winning ugly, na na hey hey, he gone, gaaaaaaaaaaasssss- but it’s something I caught onto quick having moved there the first full attendance allowed game at the stadium last year.
I’d get used to coming home and looking out to see the stadium lights on in full. Some days it would be after a long work day with the pinkish summer sunset as the backdrop, some nights it would be about that witching hour time when that “one last bar” welcomed us for probably too long. And, frankly, Wrigley is the dame I recognize as beautiful but isn’t my type, and I’ve often thought someone who’s an actual fan of the team would appreciate that view and those endless stadium lights more than I who fell for the team who chose the faceless fireworks factory façade as a ballpark theme. But there’s something to coming home every time the team’s in town and seeing those stadium lights dwarf the apartments barely putting up a fight below in a summer night.
It’s been a long six months of seeing nothing but the neon “Chicago CUBS” sign- designed, I would have to think, to beckon the attention of the bleacher creatures to let them know that, in their drunken stupor, they’d found it- on and forever and always on. We were, for a while, in danger of having that happen for an even longer time: the disputes over the collective bargaining agreement between the league and the player’s association over the winter came to a lockout, and grew uglier by the day for quite some time. I can’t recall the day that I thought of penning “Baseball Bastardized II” for this site, but I had definitely made my mind up on number vs. roman numerals and the list of talking points.
Then, after a long heated debate of crucial issues that today’s children discuss regularly- “this international spending has just gotten too out of control, Dada!”- an agreement happened. The “millionaires vs. billionaires” opinions became the cost of avocado toast topic equivalent in the sports talk world when the true heart of the arguments- admittedly too boring to talk about here- represented a much bigger picture.
I’ve grown tired of the idea of baseball as America’s pastime: basketball is light years ahead in marketing itself; hockey sells constantly despite being the most unfamiliar; and football claims the days of Saturday and Sunday basically to itself. Some of it is its own doing: 162 games objectively asinine to keep up with but essential in its volume, it’s structured to be slow, and you just might not see your favorite player do all that much on a given day compared to other sports. But, in sticking with the theme of America’s pastime, how can we compare it to the American dream when some of the most exciting players that fans are dying to see are intentionally kept in the minors so that their service time keeps them from being paid fairly? How can we keep the ticket clerks, the beer vendors, the hot dog guys, from working their usual schedules because 32 individuals who never sleep worrying about money state that they’re worried about money? Thankfully I do not root for a team in the basement of their payroll: how could I justify bringing a family of four to an increasingly outrageously expensive ballpark experience to see a team designed solely to pay as little as possible for the players on the field?
But, that is the “Baseball: Bastardized” mindset, and this is the “Baseball: Back” piece. And with that, let’s talk about the good things happening in the sport as it starts up again:
- A full slate of 162 games will be played, meaning players will be paid in full for this upcoming season. More importantly, the behind the scenes crew mentioned earlier will as well.
- An expanded postseason will allow for more crucial games to be played in front of the eyes of fans. I get the mindset from fans of the four team per league purity, but eyes on the secondary markets of the sport will be incredible. Tell me San Diego wouldn’t be a must watch home venue if they get in.
- A universal Designated Hitter will allow for more players to be able to participate in contests. I get the nine players nine hitters argument, but here’s a chance for more fan favorites.
- The Tampa Bay Rays and my White Sox, to start, have committed to 6:10 PM weeknight starts for games that take place during the typical school year so that more kids can attend without the worry of waking up tired the next day. Small but welcomed change to introduce the next generation to the game.
- We saw an incredibly crazy offseason, with a lot of players moving. While there are still the aforementioned teams at the bottom of the payroll, many teams have welcomed new talent and new possible fan favorites with the mindset of winning now or having a future plan now in place. The fresh faces in new places, and not with the usual suspects either, will be a welcomed change.
- Where originally in jeopardy, we will have games on the 75th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier. All numbers will be in Dodger blue that day. The All-Star Game will take place at Dodger Stadium.
- Service time manipulation, as alluded to earlier, is becoming less of the culture in the game for some teams. Seattle has committed the number three prospect in baseball, Julio Rodriguez, to their roster. The more this grows the more exciting the game will be to watch as players of the future get to shine sooner.
- That we are able to be discussing all teams, at the moment (Toronto the possible exception?) discussing a full capacity, full slate, fully happening season of Major League Baseball after months of hearing nothing but negativity about the possibility of it happening. We get to, finally, play ball.
I’m guessing Wrigley will run some last minute tests but will be mostly dormant before Thursday. And the weather isn’t looking to be a true sign of summer to come as it stands right now. But there are games on the calendar, slated for this week. Who knows how any of them will play out for any of the teams we all align with. All I know is two years ago we were wondering if we’d see baseball anytime soon, both in the initial shutdown and in my original article lambasting the efforts to find a way to play an already socially distanced sport. Thursday night, provided global chaos or, worse yet, a rain delay, doesn’t cause a cancellation, I’ll look west from my place to see the lights at Wrigley on once again, there for the night and there for the weekend. I’ll have to wait until the next day to catch my team opening in a probably frigid Detroit as the geographically inclined baby bear fan club starts their usual Friday ritual, hoping to avenge the day before or capitalize on the momentum. No matter how brutal the winter was for you, no matter how stressful, if it all, the lockout was, and no matter your team: here comes baseball, and here comes the promise of summer that we cling to, awaiting the moment the umpire yells those two infamous words.
Rejoice, ye sons and daughters of the children’s game we watch grown men attempt to play. The lights are on, and finally someone’s home.
About the Author: Brian Connor is trying to do writing pieces like this more consistently, something I’m sure all As It Ought To Be contributors have felt at some point. He can usually be found at the world famous Turtles before White Sox games and hopes his editor’s Dodgers come to town in late October.
Image Credit: Geo. R. Lawrence Co. “National League Park, Chicago, Giants vs. Cubs, Aug. 30, 1908” Public Domain image courtesy of The Library of Congress