Bringing Baseball And The Rim Country Up To Speed

AROUND THE RIM COUNTRY

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More and more the idea is gaining strength -- even among those with hot dog breath. Baseball is being relentlessly outstripped as our national pastime by other sports -- most notably football and basketball.

A recent column in The Arizona Republic by Dan Bickley bemoaned the gradual demise of America's game.

"Last season," Bickley wrote, "Major League Baseball suffered a 6 percent dip in attendance. Crowds attending opening day in 2003 were down 9.8 percent. It's all part of a downward spiral dating to 1994, and since then, over 12 percent of the fan base has left the building."

The major problem, Bickley theorizes, is that the tediousness of the game (including all the "scratching, spitting, stepping off the mound and out of the batter's box") no longer fits today's "thrill-a-minute standards" typified by extreme sports and reality TV.

Fortunately, and in the finest American tradition, baseball is fighting back by altering itself to accommodate and incorporate such staples of our contemporary culture as emerging technologies, shoddy workmanship and stuffing the ballot box. As evidence I offer you:

  • EMERGING TECHNOLOGIES

A pitch-tracking device called QuesTec, introduced in 11 ballparks this year, electronically monitors how accurately umpires call balls and strikes.

When the Diamondbacks' Curt Schilling recently disagreed with its tougher standards, he showed his displeasure by smashing one of the system's four $5,000 cameras. An umpire urged him, off the record of course, to break the others.

  • SHODDY WORKMANSHIP

Speaking of breaking, baseball bats are shattering this year at a record-setting pace, and there's nothing to add a new element of excitement to a stodgy game like sharp pieces of wood flying all over the infield and even into the stands. Byung-Hyun Kim took a piece in the leg a few weeks ago and hasn't been the same since, and a piece narrowly missed third baseman Matt Williams' head while he was otherwise preoccupied with a ground ball.

Now both are gone.

  • STUFFING THE BALLOT BOX

In the finest tradition of the state of Florida and banana republics everywhere, fans who vote for the American and National league all-star teams are allowed to vote "up to 25 times." What kind of logic ever possessed baseball's honchos to institute such a rule? What it amounts to is that if you don't vote 25 times, you're not getting maximum pop for your vote. Of course, if you're the indecisive type, you can vote for more than one person for each position and thus reduce your angst level.

Far be it from me to suggest that Major League Baseball is tampering with the game in ways that make little sense and border on the absurd if not the unethical.

I mean, they wouldn't actually tamper with the bats to make them more susceptible to splintering, would they? The only alternative would seem to be that they aren't growing trees like they used to.

Even if these innovations don't rejuvenate baseball, the game will never get so boring that it reaches the bottom of the sports continuum. There will always be hockey and soccer.

But I think we could take a page from Major League Baseball to make life a little more exciting in sleepy, small town America -- namely right here in the Rim country, where we have been known to engage in a bit of spittin' and scratchin'.

Imagine if you will:

  • EMERGING TECHNOLOGIES

An electronic device that tracks flatlanders during their visit here. If they toss trash out the window or in any other way step out of line, they receive a good, stiff electric jolt. In keeping with the baseball motif, three jolts and you're out -- for keeps.

  • SHODDY WORKMANSHIP

A mayor's gavel that shatters on impact. Anybody who exceeds the time limit imposed on individual public comments does so at his or (more likely) her own risk.

  • STUFFING THE BALLOT BOX

Allowing everybody 25 votes for everything. Can't you see it now. "Mr. Mayor, I cast 12 votes to raise the Tyler Parkway speed limit to 40 mph, 12 to lower it to 15 mph, and one vote to abstain." Who says you can't please all the people all the time.

Or how about eight votes for Ken Murphy, eight for mayoral opponent Jim White, and nine for none of the above. And if you have low self esteem, you can vote just once or twice.

But maybe it's a stretch to apply baseball's "innovations" to the Rim country. Maybe we should allow cooler heads to prevail. Where's Ted Williams when you need him?

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