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There is no compromise where the pitch clock is concerned. It either imposes a time limit on the game of baseball or it doesn’t.

Now a few games into spring training, we’ve had the opportunity to see more action in action. And the result is about 28 fewer minutes of baseball each game. You can decide for yourself whether or not that’s a good thing; some might argue that all we’re missing is half an hour of pitchers wandering about the mound and various forms of wristband adjusting, to which others will respond: Yes, exactly. Isn’t it grand?

You may have seen the recent resurrection of this sport-shaming overlay of the 2019 Kentucky Derby against 2 leisurely minutes between two MLB pitches. But the context this supposed mic drop is missing is the facts that 1) the crowd was booing this extended measuring contest that involved an at-mound discussion with the catcher; even this much baseballing was too much for baseball fans and 2) the finish of that Kentucky Derby wasn’t certified for twenty-two minutes while stewards pored over a jockey objection. There is no perfect sport; all of life is finding the center of the pendulum swing.

Baseball is the major sport in American culture that doesn’t involve time limits–and that, largely, is the point. A healthy civilization has recourse to springs as well as marathons.

For all we make of its nine-player arrangement, baseball is single combat. Tom Wolfe made a giant deal out of this in The Right Stuff when reminding us that the early space program with its one-man rockets was nothing more than a nuclear era joust. And, unless this nation begins to teem with little boys fencing or Greco-Roman wrestling on playgrounds of a spring afternoon, baseball is all we have left of testing a kingdom’s honor: Our Senzel against your Cabrera, for as many rounds as it takes. The pitcher decides; the batter reacts; the pitcher reacts to that decision and the batter decides based on that reaction. We’ll be here all night if we have to. We’re going to settle this thing.

Particularly here in Cincinnati, our mishmash immigrant culture has long made much of the connection between baseball and ethnic Catholicism. What’s the main article? A small white round object that tells the whole story. We Catholics believe that, after consecration, that tiny piece of bread really, truly contains within it the creator of the universe, who always was, and always will be.

That stupendously central aspect of our faith led to Eucharistic Adoration, a devotion in which a priest elevates a single consecrated host upon the altar. And then he leaves. And we all sit there and stare at it. Sometimes we read devotional literature or put sermons in our earbuds or knock through scripted prayers, but the main thing is to sit there, for an hour, with nowhere to look but at God. And that, largely, is the point. One saint used to say, “I look at Him, and He looks at me.”

This activity was undertaken rarely at my Catholic grade school, never even mentioned at my Catholic high school, and possibly nonexistent at my Catholic college; none of us thought about it enough to even wonder where we might find it. Also, 40% of my fellow members of Generation Atari who were raised Catholic no longer consider themselves Catholic at all.

We aren’t putting in the time. We aren’t staring into the face of the grain of who we say we are. We either believe that small white piece of bread is Jesus, or we don’t.

Meanwhile, baseball has taken the same one-way road. The historical picture of the pitch clock debate must take into account that baseball games used to require, on average– and this is no coincidence– about thirty minutes less than they do today. As recently as 1984, a full baseball game unwound itself in about the same time as one in the 1940’s. And back then there was still time to stand in line at the concession stand, visit the restroom– the men’s one, anyway– solve all the bullpen’s problems with a total stranger at a sink, and return with the home team still at bat. That’s why we embraced it in the first place.

I don’t know how to speed the game up without artificial limitations, or even if we should. For as television broadcasts and hot takes and instant dating became more popular, baseball resolutely slowed itself down. The culprit of the current stately pace of the game is the time between pitches, but maybe the culprit is also a second-by-second pushback against DoorDash and Amazon Prime. You need to take a commercial break? Fine. Split the screen and give me an extra second or two to prepare myself to hurl this very hard object at a rate of 90 miles per hour directly at two other human beings.

We either take the time to think about it, and decide whether we are who we say are, or we don’t.



24 Responses

  1. LDS

    I hate the pitch clock. Speeding up a baseball game should never be the objective. As for Tom Wolfe? I read The Right Stuff and didn’t think he understood the mindset of the participants. I think that’s becoming true in baseball – the league management/owners no longer respect the legacy of the game or the fans for that matter.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      I am always so happy to meet someone else who’s read TRS! I think Tom Wolf spoke to at least some of the movers and shakers– certainly Glenn and Yeager– but maybe his objective wasn’t to present their mindset? It seems more to me like capturing the anxiety and forward rush of the moment. He spends a LOT of time on the press, which I think is the best temperature gauge to use in that era.

  2. AMDG

    It’s getting harder and harder to find Catholics these days who believe in, you know, Catholic stuff.

    For example, in 1950 about 87% of Catholics believed that at the words of consecration (hoc est enim corpus meum), Jesus became present body, blood, soul, and divinity in that unleavened wheat bread.

    As of 2019 only 31% of Catholics still believed in the Real Presence.

    As an aside, I’m pretty sure baseball is not the only game which doesn’t involve time limits. But I digress…

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Well, certainly not the only one. But the only major one in American culture, I think. Does tennis…? But that’s kind of a niche sport, I think.

      That Real Presence number is now down to about 30 🙁 But the good news is that young priests seem pretty based and have a low tolerance for nonsense.

      • AMDG

        Listening to a ballgame is like listening to Jesu Dulcis Memoria or some other chant.

        Its very nature is befitting of a slower pace.

        If it’s sped up too much, then it becomes something different. Like with the introduction of 20/20 matches in cricket. Technically, the same game as an ODI or test match, but the 20/20 is played very differently because of the limited number of overs.

      • AMDG

        The young priests seem to be more traditional.

        Which, in Cincy, is interesting. As tradition and orthodoxy are fostered in the seminary, but as soon as these young priests get out to their parish and attempt to implement that tradition with ad orientem masses, the archbishop shuts down down…

      • Mary Beth Ellis

        Both excellent points, my friend 🙂

  3. Jimbo44CN

    I love the pitch clock, watching batters adjust every piece of equipment on their bodies and then watching the pitcher wander around the mound for a minute or two., OMG. Please.
    I did quite a bit of coaching of all ages in years past, and the best thing to tell a pitcher if found was to “rock and fire”. To much thought makes for a lot of walks.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      I agree the antics are way too much! I wish there were a way to address with without the clock though. Your advice is wise and I wish the MLB pitchers would follow it!

  4. Jimbo44CN

    Sorry “I found”, not if found.

  5. Mark Moore

    Personally, I’m a fan of the quicker pace. I grew weary of all the “antics and tactics” both on the mound and next to the batter’s box. Then again, I’d also like to see the robo-zone because I want consistency.

    As for your eloquent writing about Catholic tradition, from a non-Catholic perspective, we could all use a little more focus in our lives. I recognize this Lenten season in my own ways, and value the contemplation that comes with it.

    Oh, and perhaps T-ball is the “perfect sport” … provided those darned helicopter parents don’t muck it up!

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      So glad you liked the piece 🙂 It’s interesting to see what bothers people and what doesn’t. I don’t mind a robo-zone or the challenges, but other people lose their minds over it. I also maintain my botheration about the advance runners and the DH.

      Happy Lent 🙂

      • Jimbo44CN

        Agree on one of the two. Like the ghost runner, hate the DH.

  6. greenmtred

    For fans, baseball requires attention span, and attention span seems to be an endangered attribute. I’m not automatically opposed to all changes in the sport. After all, it has changed consistently–albeit slowly–since its beginnings. My fear is that, in courting a younger demographic, the powers that be will do stupid things and ruin the game in the name of speeding up the pace. Pace, as an aside, may be more a matter perception than reality, in any case; I read somewhere that NFL games, on average, last about as long as do MLB games, but NFL games have slightly less action. Fans, apparently, aren’t bored by watching a bunch of heavy guys catching their collective breath after after a few seconds of blocking, but are bored by a pitcher going through a ceremonial sequence of ablutions before throwing the next pitch. Maybe the best thing that could happen to baseball would be its acceptance of its status as an important niche sport.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      I belong to a program that builds accountability into working for an hour–just one hour–into not checking social media, starting another project, wandering off to dust something, etc. It’s horrid how we’ve lost that ability, even people my age who didn’t grow up with screen in hand.

      I’ve had that thought about the NFL too! It’s almost always at least an hour from the 2 minute warning!

      • greenmtred

        Right on, Mary Beth. I’ve had the thought that we are the only species that devotes time and expertise into making ourselves irrelevant.

      • Jim Walker

        I quit college basketball over a decade ago because of all the long commercial breaks throughout the game and all the times out in the last 2 minutes which now take 15-20 minutes of real time to play.

        I wish the men’s game would follow suite with the women’s and go to quarters with a full commercial break at the 1st team called time out of a quarter then 90 second commercial breaks at any subsequent called times out in a quarter. And no commercial breaks during the last 2 minutes of regulation with a limit of 1 full time out per team in the last 2 minutes.

      • Mary Beth Ellis

        I am not at all well-versed in the state of basketball except the facts that I hate it and it’s entirely too squeaky and nobody ever calls the one rule I understand (travelling), so I appreciate hearing from someone who’s been tracking it. Interesting to hear that the women have instituted a rule that the men have not. (Although I imagine this has much more to do with one selling much, much more commercial time than the other.)

  7. LWBlogger

    Speeding up baseball… Ugh… The leisurely pace is part of the attraction of the game. Anyway, love reading your stuff. Missed reading your stuff as I’m sort of off the Reds the past couple years. Who would have ever thought that?

    One small thing though. Three other humans. He’s hurling that solid white object, usually in excess of 90 MPH, at three other humans. My good friend who just retired as a minor league umpire, would be upset with me had I not mentioned that there is also an umpire back there 🙂

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Thank you!! And I wrestled with putting 3 people vs 2, but was afraid some might not consider the umpire in the count. as he is behind the catcher and therefore not first in the line of fire. But YES, there very much is an ump back there! Thank you for bringing this up!

      • LWBlogger

        I have allowed a passed ball or two that have tagged an unfortunate plate umpire. Not proud of it, but it happens.

      • Mary Beth Ellis

        It happens constantly to those of us who are not at all coordinated. I literally heard this from my Pilates teacher yesterday when I managed to knock over an entire bottle of water in the act of standing up.

  8. Mike

    so far, I have surprisingly loved the time clock. The game flows more naturally instead of pitchers digging at the dirt, and batters stepping in and out of the box to adjust various items. Now, if only we can get a homily clock on some of the priests in my parish…..

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      LOL– I just saw a tweet in which someone asked Chat GPT to write a Catholic homily and it was DEAD ON the milksop crap that I grew up with. Check out Fr. Mike Schmidt’s or Fr. John Riccardo’s homilies on YouTube; they are mesmerizing, and I always come away having learned something.