There is joy in Mudville

The Saline Courier - - OPINION - Con­tact Jim Mullen at [email protected]

“Congress shall make no law ... abridg­ing the free­dom of speech, or of the press ... . ” — From the First Amend­ment to Con­sti­tu­tion

When the base­ball play­offs re­ally get go­ing, Sue will some­times watch four games in one day. If I watch with her, I am not al­lowed to speak, be­cause that would spoil the spell.

Dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son, she will only watch her team -- the Yan­kees -- and maybe the All-star Game and Home Run Derby. But dur­ing the play­offs? It doesn’t mat­ter what teams are play­ing: Don’t even think of walk­ing in front of the TV.

A few years ago, we were go­ing to be in New York City when the Yan­kees were sched­uled to play their archri­vals, the dreaded Bos­ton Red Sox. As a sur­prise for Sue, I thought it would be a good idea to buy a cou­ple of tick­ets to one of the games. The cheap­est seats were some­where above the nose­bleed sec­tion, and they were $300 apiece. To this day, I thank my lucky stars that the games were sold out.

That’s when I started say­ing things like, “The best seats are in front of the tele­vi­sion, any­way, and those are free.” Only the TV ac­cess is NOT free; we had to buy a pack­age for that, too. Broad­way mu­si­cals at only $125 a ticket were start­ing to look like a bar­gain.

Of course, the com­mon com­plaint is that pro­fes­sional ath­letes make too much money. I’ve yet to hear any­one say the team own­ers make too much money, or the sports com­men­ta­tors. It’s only the ath­letes.

I won­der if the peo­ple who say ath­letes are over­paid would turn down the money if they were play­ing. Can’t you just hear them say to the team owner,

“Oh no, that’s way too much money!

Please cut my salary and use the money to buy your­self an­other home in Aspen.

You de­serve it. I don’t. Af­ter all, all I did was prac­tice ev­ery wak­ing mo­ment since the age of 10, spend hours on a bus go­ing to high-school meets, and spend ev­ery dime my par­ents could scrape to­gether on train­ers, equip­ment and pri­vate coach­ing. Whereas YOU did all the hard work of in­her­it­ing this team.” (A note: 13 of the 32 NFL teams were in­her­ited.)

I once heard a guy com­plain about over­paid ath­letes while he was stand­ing in line to buy lot­tery tick­ets. If the lot­tery isn’t money for noth­ing, what is? So why is it OK for some peo­ple to have “too much money,” but not oth­ers? It’s not. It’s just some­thing peo­ple have learned to say with­out think­ing. Who hasn’t heard some­body com­plain about a sales tax at the counter by say­ing “Gotta pay Gover­nor So-and-so’s tax,” as if no one ever had to pay taxes be­fore the cur­rent guy or gal got into of­fice?

When I hear peo­ple say that the prob­lem with base­ball is that it’s too slow com­pared to foot­ball, I won­der what they’re talk­ing about. A reg­u­la­tion one­hour foot­ball game takes three to four hours to watch. One minute of ac­tion, four min­utes of com­mer­cials. No won­der the TV ex­ec­u­tives want you to watch more foot­ball. And no won­der there are so many ads for beer and snacks -- you’ve got to do some­thing dur­ing all that down­time, why not eat and drink?

One of my friends is into some­thing called “game the­ory,” which I can’t ex­plain too well, ex­cept to say that the games and sports we like to play (and watch) didn’t hap­pen by ac­ci­dent. They evolved to where they are now, and know­ing how that hap­pened helps peo­ple de­sign new games.

For in­stance, they’ve learned that if a game is too easy or too hard, no one will play it. It’s not an ac­ci­dent, for ex­am­ple, that there are so many near-ties at first base, with the run­ner barely beat­ing the throw, and vice versa. It turns out that putting the base 90 feet away from home plate is the per­fect dis­tance for that to hap­pen. Had they made the bases 89 feet apart, or 91, it would rarely hap­pen, and the game would be bor­ing. (Or “more bor­ing,” if you’re not a fan.)

And a base­ball game has be­come a metaphor for life. Its vo­cab­u­lary is ev­ery­where: “He struck out with her,” “She balked,” “He hit a home run with that pro­posal,” “She’s on deck for a pro­mo­tion,” “That speech was a curve­ball.”

Even if you don’t watch, base­ball is a part of your life.


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