Raise your hand if you find yourself having a hard time getting excited for the MLB playoffs.
See, you aren’t alone. There are a lot of us.
It’s strange, because baseball captivates us in ways no other sports do. From the first day that pitchers and catchers report to spring training (conveniently, right around Valentine’s Day, a measure of our love of the game).
Baseball is more than just a game, it’s part of our culture….part of the secular “religion” of our society:
(Everyone should watch “Bull Durham” a few days after the Super Bowl, just to get you in the proper frame of mind for baseball season, BTW.)
We follow the ups and downs of our team for an entire season. 162 games. When we come home for work at night, we put on the game, just to catch an inning or two before dinner. July 31 is practically a national holiday (and if you don’t know why, well, this post just isn’t for you!). When the All-Star Game ended in a tie, we went apoplectic. When Joe Carter won the World Series with a home run, just about everyone outside Philadelphia became Blue Jays fans for a brief moment. We followed Cal Ripken’s quest to greatness…just by showing up to work ready to go every day. Chicks dig the long ball, and dudes are captivated by it, too.
But come playoff time, unless your team is in the playoffs – unless you have some skin the game – it’s hard to get amped up for it, even though the quality of the ballplay is astronomically higher than the 162-game marathon you just sat through. Instead of the promised land for ALL baseball fans, it’s become a Cool Kids Club, and if you don’t live in any of the eight cities represented, well, you aren’t on the list.
Let’s contrast that with the other dominant sports league in the United States: the National Football League.
They play just 1/10th of the games that baseball players do. With 22 starters, all wearing face masks, you don’t get to bond with the players in the same way. Because of free agency rules and a cut-throat deliver NOW system, players don’t last very long (in fact, the average NFL career is right around 4 years).
The national appeal is undeniable. Merchandising, TV ratings, video games…they all prove one major point:
People consume MLB through their one favorite team; people consume the NFL as a league.
Ask an average baseball fan about a the Colorado Rockies. Not a whole lot to say. They play in Coors Field. Came into existence in the 1990s with the Marlins. Larry Walker and Dante Bichette played there for a while. And…wow…they are in the playoffs!
Ask an average football fan about the Denver Broncos. New coach Josh McDaniel, who replaced longtime leader Mike Shanahan, basically forced out starting QB Jay Cutler, one of the brightest young players in the league because he tried to trade for his old QB Matt Cassel. They now have Kyle Orton, which nobody seems to be pleased with, except the fact that they are 4-0 this year. Don’t draft their RBs in fantasy, because they change so often, but because of a great offensive line tradition, they excel on the ground. Brandon Marshall is a headcase, but is a world-class WR. Eddie Royal could be the #1 guy if Marshall flakes out or is traded. See? Much different level of information.
What the NFL has achieved is ideal for sports leagues: you can’t miss ANY game, even the ones that your favorite team isn’t playing in, because they ALL matter.
With just 16 games over 17 weeks, everything that happens in the league affects the rest of the league, with little time to adjust to changes. And the way the games are scheduled, they are appointment viewing, not something you watch a few minutes of before dinner. Sunday=NFL. Monday night=NFL. Thanksgiving=NFL. Kickoff Week is a major ordeal in both sports AND entertainment. The playoffs are must-see-TV. And the Super Bowl is an unmatched cultural cornerstone, so mammoth that even the advertisements are a big deal. Do you know how insane that is? Paid advertisements in this game are a major news story!
However, there are benefits to the MLB system. The team is part of your daily life for the majority of the year. Every morning you read about last night’s game. An off-day for your team is like a root canal! And when your team does make it into the playoffs and you join that Cool Kids Club, it’s a mighty special feeling.
How many football fans do you know by name?
Not many. But you know all about Jeffrey Maier and Steve Bartman, whose interference in games have been added to the lore of the sport.
But, man, when your baseball team wins, it feels like a win for the city and the fans. Football wins set the mood for a few days, but a baseball championship is in a class by itself. It’s a private party, while the Super Bowl is a public affair.
So I’ll put the question to you: Which do you prefer…the baseball way or the football way? Explain…and share this around…I’m very curious in what you have to say!
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