Sports » Sports Feature

FROM MY SEAT: Pitching a Holiday (Again)



Someday Major League Baseball will get it. And, importantly, so will the U.S. Congress. Someday -- hopefully in your lifetime, dear reader -- the World Series will again be played under the sun. (For those curious, the last daytime game played during the Fall Classic was in 1987 . . . and it was under a roof in Minneapolis. The last time natural shadows were actually cast at the World Series was in 1984.) The time has long come not only for daytime baseball during the game's signature event, but for an actual holiday devoted to our country's definitive pastime. Let's call it National Baseball Day.

For years, now, I've argued that America should take a day off in late October -- midway between Labor Day and Thanksgiving -- for a holiday where we can remind ourselves how integral sports in general, and baseball in particular, have become in the way we conduct our lives as Americans. I've made the case -- until this year -- that this holiday should fall on the Wednesday when Game 4 of the World Series is played. With the MLB powers that be having changed the Series schedule, the holiday would still fall on a Wednesday, but it would now coincide with the opening game of the Series. Even better, in my eyes, and an indication -- my fingers firmly crossed -- that baseball is, in fact "getting it."

Why close schools, government offices, even banks(!) for a lousy baseball game? Because leisure, friends, is what Americans do . . . and do better than any other country on the planet. Enjoy Labor Day for what it is, a nod to the hard work that pays your mortgage, your rent, your car note, those ever-inflating utility bills. But take National Baseball Day as a reminder that Americans work not to pay bills, but to play.

These days, the argument could be made that the NFL and NASCAR have supplanted baseball as America's most popular spectator sport. But holidays are earned with history, folks, and baseball was shaping Americans' downtime long before Joe Namath saved professional football or Richard Petty gave us an appreciation for trading paint. And baseball remains singular in its reflection of our country's behavioral trends, from Babe Ruth roaring in the Twenties to Jackie Robinson knocking down barriers in 1947, from Roberto Clemente adding a Latino flavor in the Sixties to Ichiro Suzuki turning the sport global, indeed, in 2001.

For National Baseball Day to happen, the money-making fat cats that run the television networks will have to put aside their appetite for ad dollars in favor of a big-picture view of their most critical commodity: fans. The 10-year-old boys and girls going to bed before the fifth inning of World Series games in the eastern time zone will be the 25-year-old ticket-buying demographic more familiar with football and stock-car racing -- events held largely during the afternoon! -- in just a few years. If baseball and TV want to capture (and hold) an audience, they should take a lesson from cereal companies and (sadly) beer distributors: start young. Game 1 of the Series would start at 3 p.m. eastern time, so every kid from Portland, Maine, to Portland, Oregon, could watch every pitch if he or she chooses. (And if you think advertisers will run from an afternoon sporting event on a weekday, tune in to the NCAA tournament next March.)

"I don't give a whit about baseball," you say? Have never watched a game, and never will? That's fine, too. Take the day and do something -- with leisure in mind -- that you couldn't otherwise on a regular Wednesday. Take your significant other to a movie. Walk your dog in a new park. And if you have them, make your children smile with an excursion (if, and only if, they don't have a team to cheer in the big game). However it is you catch your wind, just remember that baseball helped the cause.

More people bought tickets to Major League Baseball games in 2007 -- almost 80 million -- than in any other season in over 120 years. Yes, Americans still love baseball, still love the World Series. It's time for baseball -- and the World Series -- to love us back.

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