Unless you experienced a depressingly sheltered childhood, chances are you have some good ol’ trauma buried deep inside you. When it comes to life-long emotional scarring, there are numerous potential causes. Perhaps you wet your pants one day in elementary school and proceeded to tell everyone that it was due to a rain puddle accident, a fib even your teachers refused to play along with because it was sunny out and the only thing people detest more than a pants-wetter is a liar. Maybe you walked in on your parents having role-play sex involving a dragon costume and a creepily threadbare “Damsel in DDstress” outfit. Or, perhaps, you were forced to participate in America’s national
nightmare pastime: baseball.
In 2013, it is fairly en vogue to riff on how dull baseball is. How can it compare with the ceaseless cycle of brain damage that makes the NFL so riveting? Baseball hasn’t seen innovation since Taft was trapped in the White House bathtub. It is a slow-paced sport built for the olde-tyme crackle of the radio, yet it is trapped in a world ruled by LOL-this-thing-just-happened GIFs and knee-jerk memes that have life cycles short enough to make fruit flies feel grateful. Baseball is as anachronistic as vinyl records, except LPs are at least fetishized by young hipsters. The only “hips” associated with modern baseball fans are the artificial kind.
My problems with baseball, however, have nothing to do with how “boring” it is perceived as being. I’m a person who enjoys my fair share of soporific material: Shakespeare, golf, talk radio, and listening to obstinate people debate the definition of irony. Yeah, baseball games take hours to complete, but I’m pretty sure we’re a society that values length (MIRITE LADIEZ?!). Sure, the season drags on for months and months, but is that any more deplorable a crime than The Office lasting for a million years? I say no. If we were to discount all activities just because they’re “boring,” then we’d have eliminate all math from our schools, which sounds awesome for numerically-challenged yokels like me until you consider we need math to calculate how many tons a bridge can hold and the correct ratio of MSG to put into our food. In short, just because something is dull doesn’t mean it is worthless; consider, for example, defibrillator instructions and the Constitution.
Really, what makes baseball terrible in my opinion isn’t its monotony, but how cruel of a game it is for children. Everyone today seems all upset about tag and dodgeball being emotionally traumatic games, yet the sadistic sport of baseball is somehow given a free pass? That’s crap. While other organized sports teach children that the social safety net of teamwork can raise all participants to greatness, baseball lets kids know right off the bat that the world is—sorry Explosions in the Sky—a cold, dead place. It reinforces the idea that everyone is born alone and dies alone and the only thing that defines you are quantifiable traits. Sure, maybe that’s a good lesson for business school, but it seems a little harsh for kids to be forced to swallow.
First, there’s the basic fact that the delineation of defensive positions is clearly a hierarchical ranking. Yeah, football has the glory position of quarterback and basketball has guards, but everyone watching those sports knows the other participants play an integral role in the overall success of the team. If you’re too hefty and slow-footed as a child to play running back, you can at least tell yourself your awesome blocking is critical and appreciated. Baseball isn’t like that if you’re a kid. If you’re a child stationed out in deep left field, it certainly isn’t because the coach “really needs your hustle out there.” No, it is because you’re a god-awful player who is a complete liability in the infield, ergo you’re stuck out amongst the daisies and dog crap because nobody eight-years-old can hit a ball that far. You know it and everyone watching knows it. You want to know what’s good about the outfield? The song “Your Love.” That’s it. Everything else is horrible. .
Of course, along with the clear designation of skill as demonstrated by fielding positions, there’s the whole issue of the batting order. It boggles my mind that we live in a society where we can’t give grades anymore because some kids’ “feelings” might be hurt (or whatever other ridiculous machinations the politically correct crowd has devised), yet telling a child, “Hey, you’re so awful at swinging a stick that we’re going to ensure everyone in the stands knows it by making you hit ninth,” is perfectly okay. Oh, does it build character? No. It builds a lifetime of insecurities that’ll manifest themselves as alcoholism. When I was struggling through Little League, I hit behind a chubby girl who played on our boy’s team and just ahead of a kid who walked with a bad limp and ate his boogers. That isn’t even a joke; I have the box scores and team photo to prove it
While a batting order certainly makes sense tactically, it’s socially irredeemable because, guess what, kids that suck at hitting know they suck. They know because they have to walk up to the plate all alone and try not to cry in shame at their ineptitude as the third-base coach shouts useless advice like, “Just choke up a ‘lil,” and, “Keep your eye on the ball, slugger!” Really?! I was planning on using my eyes to stare directly into the sun, but I’m glad I now know that looking at the ball is the better bet! Nobody who has ever been called “slugger” while in the batters’ box has slugged anything, ever. Over the course of my inglorious baseball career, I’m pretty sure my paltry On Base Percentage was entirely due to being hit by pitches. Evidently, gangly and awkward giraffe-children are thrilling targets for young pitchers. It doesn’t matter if you get drilled in the back fat by a fastball or end up whiffing wildly on a 1-2 pitch. Either way you end up embarrassed and crying in front of scores of adult strangers who then pity clap for you because adults are clueless assholes.
See, there’s nothing worse than striking out on the baseball diamond. Even striking out in love is better because at least then you get to play “Missing You” by John Waite on repeat and write visceral free-verse about all the ways your hearts is like a misunderstood dandelion or whatever the hell it is poets write about. When it comes to shameful sports moments, my childhood lack of coordination caused me to run the gamut: I’ve missed free-throws so atrociously the refs have laughed; I’ve dropped more open passes than circa-2008 Braylon Edwards; I’ve tripped and fallen on a track, which isn’t so bad if you don’t take into account that tracks are perfectly flat and I was lagging so far behind the pack that I couldn’t use another runner’s errant misstep as an excuse. Yet nothing, nothing, compares to the isolated shame of striking out and trudging back to the dugout, head held low to hide the tears. I’d rather my future child be pelted by a million dodgeballs slung by cackling goons or cyberbullied into a state of inconsolable despondency than endure the embarrassments of baseball.
Of course, maybe I’m just being oversensitive about everything. Baseball certainly teaches some valuable lessons for youths: stealing is permissible in certain situations and publicly expectorating makes you look cool. Maybe I shouldn’t hold a grudge against an entire sport simply because I was atrocious at it. I mean, I have nothing against The NeverEnding Story and that movie scared me silly. That said, I still find it hard to support the idea of kids playing baseball when so many better, gentler, and more enjoyable character-building activities exist: science camp, band camp, Dungeons and Dragons, non-competitive quilt crafting, solitary reading, etc. Children shouldn’t be coddled, but they shouldn’t be cudgeled by embarrassment either. There’s no reason to try to induce more trauma and strife into the lives of kids in an effort to “toughen them up,” unless the whole Little League thing is a scam by child psychiatrists to create more patients. If that’s the case, well, kudos on the con (and can I get an appointment?).