Column: Baseball is back, and better than ever

Washington Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper arrives for a home opener baseball game against the Miami Marlins at Nationals Park, on Thursday, April 7, 2016, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Bryce Harper wore a hat at his locker on opening day that read, “Make Baseball Fun Again.” This made me wonder: when did baseball stop being fun?

There has been a lot of debate in the media about bat flips since last season’s playoffs. Some people think bat flips make baseball more fun and help attract young viewers, while others argue that the batter is showing up the pitcher and drawing too much attention to himself. The whole topic received way too much attention, stemming from a bat flip in the most electric playoff game in recent memory.

All of a sudden it seemed like everyone wanted to argue if baseball is even fun anymore, as if bat flips make such a monumental difference. Certain circumstances call for celebration at the plate, end of discussion.

Are fans going to pack MLB stadiums and tune in on TV nationwide because there’s a chance a couple players flip their bat aside after they hit a home run in a regular season game? Baseball is as fun as it’s always been. We’ve just let our focus stray from the intricacies that make it so great.

Baseball has never been high-octane action like football or basketball; that’s just not the nature of the game. Since the 1800s, baseball has been more about skill and coordination and less about explosive athleticism. Nothing’s changed.

Are we too simple now to appreciate the hard work and preparation that goes into the ability to hit a 98 mile-per-hour fastball on the back? Are we too feeble minded to realize how much goes into every pitch that’s thrown at the major league level? Baseball really is non-stop action; it just doesn’t all go onto a highlight reel to clutter your Twitter feed and SportsCenter clips.

Look at the talent in the MLB and you’ll realize that the game has never been played at a higher level. Opening day rosters were loaded with five-tool stars from all over the world, bullpen arms throwing high 90s heat, and veterans that have put fans in the seats for the past decade. The variety of talent is what makes the MLB as fun as it is.

You can watch a 255 lbs 42-year-old pitcher face off with a 23-year-old MVP candidate. You can marvel at superstar talents ranging from 5-foot-5 to 6-foot-8. All of these unique characters have to come together to form the best unit over a grueling 162 game regular season that is as taxing mentally as it is physically.

Baseball is like a chess game that comes with mammoth home runs, brushback pitches, bang-bang plays, diving catches, manager tirades and the occasional brawl.

There always have been and always will be people who think baseball isn’t for them and that’s fine, but we need to stop acting like baseball isn’t fun enough for the youth of America to enjoy anymore. This myth that players aren’t allowed to have fun on the field has been far too overblown in the past six months.

Ken Griffey Jr. was my favorite player as a kid because of the way he had fun playing the game. He wore his hat backwards and hit mammoth home runs. There was nothing better. Junior was fun to watch and his peers respected him. Mike Trout, Carlos Correa, Manny Machado, and Matt Harvey are no different. Even Harper plays the game as hard as anybody 99 percent of the time.

People like to point fingers at the retired MLB players that sound like stodgy old men telling young kids to get off their lawn and that’s not fair either. These guys aren’t trying to suck the fun out of baseball; they just want to ensure that the game they love doesn’t lose the formula that makes it so special. They had fun playing baseball for decades and they want to make sure the next generations of players can have the same experiences they did.

To quote Field of Dreams, “Baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past. It reminds us of what once was good and what could be again.” 

The values of hard work, respect and teamwork have reflected American culture since the game was invented. This is what Hall of Fame pitcher Goose Gossage wants to protect when he rips players for showboating and drawing what he thinks is too much individual attention.

It’s time to stop debating simple matters like a bat flip and start appreciating the product on the MLB fields this season. Baseball is as fun as it ever was. 


Aaron Esposito is a staff writer for The Daily Campus, covering softball. He can be reached via email at aaron.esposito@uconn.edu.