Baseball is a business of other people’s fun. The players are supposed to have it, and if the fans have it, despite what the scoreboard says, a game can still be considered a success.
I have a friend who, although a Reds fan, attended several Pirates games during a training session in Pittsburgh, no matter the opponent. “Tickets were cheap,” he pointed out, “and if you went only on beer night, it was an affordable evening. We didn’t even watch the game. Just booed every now and then.” So even within arenas deep in enemy territory for Reds fans, fun remains a viable option.
I wonder how much fun the players actually have. Nearly every retiree mentions that what he misses the most is not so much the life on the road, but the people he met there.
I can’t imagine that simply the prospect of playing a game for immense profit guarantees a good time. Making our passions our professions goes a long way to removing a great deal of the joy from the matter. It’s no longer a chief interest or indulgence; the mortgage payment is on the line now, which tends to render any exercise deadly serious.
We writers know this better than most, as the vast majority of us must support ourselves with day jobs. Without realizing it, most of mine have gravitated towards producing fun for other people: Wine educator at Disney World. Selling roses in bars. Public communications at the Kennedy Space Center. Tour guide at the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum. Museuming at Union Terminal. Guest ranch cabin girl. I figured some of the fun would float over me like mood confetti. Why not spend 40 hours a week in a place dedicated to making sure everybody’s having a good time?
I never became numb to the grandeur of my office spaces; even when I was pulled over by the Banana River for an anxiety vomit, I still marveled at the view of the towering Vehicle Assembly Building. I ate peanut butter and jelly with my head tipped back in the Rotunda, taking in the careful placement of each mosaic stone. “Backstage” at EPCOT was a pageant of accents, costumes, and hungover college students from around the world with their heads resting on cafeteria tables.
But how happy is the happiest place on Earth without beaming employees tending to every need? Scrounging for caffeine in employee cafeterias across the country, all so carefully hidden from view that only the staff tend to know where the doors are, has left me with the sobering knowledge that no matter how delightful and edifying a place is, somewhere out there is a person making $7.50 an hour filling the toilet paper dispensers.
Which brings us back to baseball: Are these men performing for us, for the team, for their own stats, for their bargaining position come the offseason? All of the above? Do they think of themselves as performers or athletes? Or both? Is a loss as good as a win as long as it was an entertaining one?
Maybe the bottom line of baseball is us paying to watch other people having fun as they play. If the players are in on it, then so much the better. But in this Olympics season, one look at these athletes’ faces tells me that although they’d rather be here than anywhere else, engaged in what originated in human activity as a lark, a pastime, these people are having no fun at all. They’re on the clock in every possible way. Is this a perversion of sport, or simply the fullest extent of it?
We’re at the point of the baseball year when fans start asking hard questions. Is it enough to produce a lovely ballpark experience with plenty of fireworks and bobblehead weekends, or would we accept worse beer and dirtier seats in exchange for a pennant or two? Is it too much to hope for both?
In the meantime, I probably would have had a more pleasant experience writing this column if I’d had more sleep. It was intellectually enjoyable, if not exactly what I’d call “fun.” But that’s all right, because I really don’t want to have a different job, and there’s every chance you had fun reading it. And I guess that’s the point. Mostly.
Beats cleaning cabins.