The Death of Baseball – by Jeff Hirsch

I went to my third and probably last Dodger game of the year last night. Maybe my last Dodger game ever. Call me old fashioned, but going to a game just isn’t what it used to be. Actually, don’t call my old fashioned. Just call me sane.

Perhaps I’m spoiled. The first game I ever went to was at Yankee Stadium, probably around 1960 or 1961. Doubleheader with the Tigers. It was with my dad, his best friend from high school, Al, and his son, Eddie.

I’ll never forget climbing the steep ramps of the old Yankee Stadium (before the 1970’s remodel), up and up and up and up for what seemed like forever. Finally, we reached our level. We walked through a dark, narrow tunnel, and then… The sunshine and the sea of green that was the Yankee Stadium outfield overwhelmed me. I never saw greener grass or anything so beautiful in my life. It was mesmerizing, almost a religious experience. I still get that feeling whenever I go to a baseball game, wherever it is.

The day was long and leisurely. The sights, sounds and smells were memorable. Kids turned over empty soda cups and stomped on them, making a loud popping sound that echoed through the old ballpark. I heard guys whistle in ways I didn’t think were possible. Vendors hawked peanuts, Cracker Jack, Cokes, Schaeffer beer, hot dogs and ice cream. We ate copious amounts of horrible food and enjoyed it thoroughly. We sat and watched batting practice and the pitchers shagging flies in the outfield. In between games we just hung out and talked. It was so much fun just to be at the ballpark.

Al was amazing. He remembered every detail of very ballgame he’d ever attended. When I asked him, ten years later, about that day, he instantly said, “Doubleheader with the Tigers. Yankees won the first, lost the second,” then went on to tell me the final scores, starting pitchers and the highlights.

The games were great too. I think, but I’m not sure, that was the day when Rocky Colavito made a fabulous diving catch, robbing Hector Lopez of a game ending hit, but breaking his collarbone in the process. But I don’t know…I’m no Al. Maybe that was another Yankees-Tiger game I saw.

But I wonder what Al would remember after the head-pounding, bone-rattling, ear-splitting, over-the-top marketing assault that passes for a live baseball game in Los Angeles today. Last night, I couldn’t wait to get out of there, and I could barely remember my name by the time I left the ballpark.

Gone are the days where the main attraction of a baseball game was actually the game itself. And you certainly can’t take in any sights or sounds. You are bombarded non-stop, as soon as you walk into the ballpark.

It seems to me that the game was simply a medium to carry as much advertising as possible. Everything was sponsored, and I mean everything. Batting practice. Strikeouts, home runs, walks. If the Dodgers score ten runs you get a free order of wings at Hooters! (This excited my date to a game earlier in the year to no end.)

The very first thing that happens after you walk through the turnstile is an assault from a guy who wants to give you a “free” T-shirt if you sign up for a Dodger credit card. “Come on, you like the Dodgers! Sign up!” Actually, I’m a Mets fan and I like my credit rating more than either team.

Hollywood Park Casino was a big sponsor. “Hey fans, looking for something to do after the game? Come gamble at the casino!” I’m not making this up. Doesn’t that just make you want to grab your ten-year-old boy and bring him out to the old ball game?

There is a electronic “banner” that curves around the entire length of the stadium, from left field, around home plate and back out to right field. This is constantly lit up with some kind of colorful advertisement. “Another Kragen Auto Parts Strikeout!!!”

In between innings, we are forced to look at (and listen to) the Jumbotron, where we can guess which Chevy Truck will win the race, or watch some hapless fan guess the answer to a Coke Dodger trivia question or a Universal Studios (“The Entertainment Capital of Los Angeles!!”) entertainment trivia question created by one of your favorite Dodger players! Last night, and again, I’m not making this up, the trivia question was, “Which movie featured a ferocious T-Rex?” Was it “Jaws,” “ET,” or “Jurassic Park?” (The guy got it right.)

There wasn’t a moment of peace. If a Dodger player draws a walk, there is a sponsored celebration with sights and sounds that would make you think the Dodgers just won the World Series.

It is impossible to talk. Or think. What we feel about every ball and strike, every play, every idle moment is dictated to us.

Baseball, at least in Los Angeles, is truly dying, victim to the need to squeeze every possible penny out of every fan and every square foot of space. I’m beyond the $8 watered down Bud Light. This is about a sensory assault that not fan should have to tolerate.

I wonder why the fans do still tolerate it. You’d have to think, that over time, the poor experience would translate to lower attendance, but that doesn’t seem to have happened yet.

Of course, there’s a terrifying alternative point of view about all this. Maybe that’s what fans really want. The burdens of actually communicating with your friends and family, of being still for a moment, of not being entertained non-stop – could it be too much for the contemporary fan?

It’s not unlike going into a restaurant or bar with TV’s all over the place. Intimate conversation with my dinner date? I think not….

I have faith in people – fans and consumers. They’ll get fed up at the mall where plasma screen TV’s blast ads at you when you’re walking around or sitting down for a bite to eat in the food court. They’ll stop showing up at ball games if it’s going to be expensive and unpleasant. They’ll get pissed off at the companies who plaster their brand names on stadiums or Bowl games. (The Poulan Weedeater Bowl is still my favorite.)

We’re starting to see it. People are using the web to create their own communities and their own entertainment. The top down flow of news, entertainment and opinion has been turned upside down.

It’s the age old question of short-term revenue versus long-term viability. Short-term is still way ahead, but push consumers to far – and I think they’re now right on the brink – and you’ll see that change fast.

The great marketers get this already.


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