Baseball Angst

Baseball fever takes the form of hysteria this year due to lockout.

by Mickey Brandt

I’ve been in baseball in some fashion since I played on my dad’s team when I was nine.

I’ve been angry with umpires when I was a coach and angry at coaches when I was an umpire. I’ve been angry with parents in youth ball when they thought their child didn’t see enough playing time. I’ve been angry at major league rule changes like making the bases bigger and experimenting with using robot umpires. I’ve been angry with the Astros cheating and winning the World Series.

But I’ve never been angry toward The Game itself.

Until now.

Major league owners and players have been deadlocked in labor negotiations for months. It’s complicated, but here’s what I’d say about it in one sentence if I had to: The players want more money from the owners and the owners would like to keep that “more money,” thank you.

The sides are far apart. There will be no major league baseball until they agree. Neither side seems to give a damn about the fans.

Over many years my son Rich from Washington State and I met in Florida in March to attend Grapefruit League spring training games. We always went to games two hours early to compete with the kids to get autographs and chase batting practice balls. In a week, we often went to as many as eight games in six different ballparks, scoring two dozen autographs and at least that many balls.

And, the best, we spent evenings over drinks just being together on the porch, as houseguests of our friend Steve.

Our consecutive season record was interrupted in 2013 when Rich and his wife Jess had their first child in March. No worries though. The next year, Olivia, Jess, and my wife Ceci, came along. Then, our annual father/son tradition continued.

Our streak was broken again two years ago by Covid and the lack of even elementary government preparedness for it. When a country closes, so does baseball.

Last year, with so much turmoil and even vaccinated seniors so disproportionately in danger, I was afraid to go.

This year, after missing two seasons, my benefit easily outweighed my risk. I subscribed to Spring Training Online, which notified me when each team’s tickets were released. We picked the games; I started buying the seats we always did—in the shade and on the aisle.

But the owners and the players have replaced the coronavirus in disrupting spring training.

The union wants more rights and better pay for the youngest players, the owners don’t. The union wants teams to stop “tanking” games by giving up later in the season to shed salary and get a better pick of players the next year —the other side says it’s their prerogative. The owners essentially want a salary cap; baseball is the only major sport without one. This is the bedrock issue and union resistance won’t budge.

The owners are still locking out the players and now they are locking out the fans.

Spring training is on hold. Even if it’s held, the schedule will be so scrambled our plans are ruined. We can’t even go to Florida to see minor league workouts and games because they are, for the first time, closed to the public with guards ensuring fans don’t sneak into the back lots.

It’s infuriating. It’s senseless. I get madder with each sentence I write.

Breaking news, I just exchanged texts with Rich. We finalized our road trip: We’re going to see a week of Cape Cod League games in June. It’s the première league of college stars playing just for glory in gorgeous ballparks. It’s unaffected by the lockout and the players have no gripes. They aren’t even paid.

(As of press time, the millionaire players and the billionaire owners haven’t reached an agreement.)

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