O.K., I decided to be positive this week and post recent changes in the game that I DO like. Recent is a relative term, so let's say within the past thirty years or so. Since then, there have been five commissioners, four new teams, revenue sharing, etc; but this entry will be all about the better trends in the game, and there have been a few. Last week I wrote things I'd change, and posted five examples, so this week I'll do the same. So here they are, five (fairly recent) changes to the game that I like:
1) New Stadiums: Back in the late '60s, early '70s, a lot of the owners tried to save money but building multi-purpose stadiums that could not only field their baseball team, but also the city's football (and whatever else's) team. These were your basic cookie cutter stadiums, which looked almost identical to each other- same circular shape, artificial turf, and in some cases, football yard lines on the field during September. These parks were featured in cities like Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and St. Louis...then there were the domes: Minnesota, Seattle, Houston and Montreal. Even some of the real grass stadiums seemed a little cold and antiseptic in places like Cleveland, Oakland, Etc. Well all that started to change in the early '90s, starting with Camden Yards in Baltimore, Jacobs Field in Cleveland, and on from there. These were all beautiful, throwback stadiums with plenty of charm;each one unique in it's own way.
I know the main reason behind these parks is to get more revenue for their teams from the league, and a handful have had to change their name because of corporations buying each other out (which is irritating, to say the least). But I welcome the change, and look forward to visiting all of these ballparks...hell, I'll even go to Enron Field...I mean, Minute Maid Park...uhhh is it still called that?....whatever...I'll even go to Houston, how about that...
2) New Uniforms: The Marlins notwithstanding, today's team uniforms are a million times more appealing to look at than those horrible double knits without buttons that teams used to wear in the '70s and '80s. Never mind the horrible fashion choices of the Pirates, A's and (especially) Astros; the form fitting unis made all but the most fit player look like a company softball player after he's had a few. I don't know when this change occurred, exactly, but every time a team like the Royals or Phillies have a "throwback"day, I appreciate the new duds even more.
3) MLB Network: If you told me 10 years ago that there would be a cable channel devoted 24/7 to baseball, I wouldn't have believed it. Then again, if you asked most people 30 years ago about an all sports cable channel being successfull (ESPN) you would have gotten the same response. What I like about the station is it's connection to the past, which is more important in baseball than any other sport. Programs like "Prime 9", "Baseball Seasons" and the various specials and documentaries they show give younger viewers a better understanding of where the game came from. Of course they show games, highlights, and original programming that's pretty cool, with lots of ballplayers from my youth and beyond giving their opinion. They also realise that the majority of the viewers are men, so they hired many baseball-savvy women to work there, mainly from other teams (Heidi Watney and Hazel Mae both used to work for NECN, the Red Sox and Bruins network). Hazel was my favorite, but she's no longer there...now my fav is Alana Rizzo; great knowledge of the game, strong speaking voice, and easy on the eyes (to say the least...Yowsa!).
4) Minor League exposure: Going to a major league game is great, but sometimes you don't have the funds; MLB games can get pricey, especially if you have kids or want to drink (you can only choose one, ha). Fortunately, there is minor league ball. In almost every size able city it seems, there is some form of a professional baseball team;whether it's one affiliated with a Major squad, or just independent, you can experience baseball at a reasonable price. Also, there are silly games for the kids, like people dressed as hotdogs racing between innings, and, in A ball and above, you might see a future star, or maybe one who's already in the majors and coming back from an injury. My favorite are the Brooklyn Cyclones, the "A" ball team for the Mets. Playing their home games in Coney Island, a Cyclones game gives you a unique experience; with it's location next to the boardwalk and full view of the amusement park in the background.
5) The fact it hasn't changed all that much: Alright, this is kind of a cop-out, but seriously, with all the changes good and bad, there really is not that much difference between today's game and the one Honus Wagner and Satchel Paige played . Still 9 innings, still 3 strikes you're out, still no instant replay, ( can I get a hallelujah ) , still the same basic game that's been played for over 180 years. There have been multiple changes to other sports in recent years ( especially hockey ), but baseball pretty much stays the same...now if we could only get rid of Bud Selig....