Red Sox

I'm going to miss baseball and I'm not embarrassed to say it

I'm going to miss baseball and I'm not embarrassed to say it

My name is John, and I have a confession.

I miss baseball.

I know it's hip to rip the national pastime for being past its prime because the game is too slow and the nights too long and the product too predictable in its sensory-killing metronomic click of strikeout-strikeout-homer, strikeout-strikeout-homer.

But as the spring officially kicks off without any games — the Red Sox were supposed to open Thursday in Toronto — now's a time to take stock of what we'll miss if ballparks remain empty through at least May or June, if not beyond.

Baseball makes an easy target for ridicule, with its staid unwritten rules and untimed game in an era of hyperactive attention spans and handheld devices and instant gratification. But the outright hostility the sport engenders among a certain demographic of fans (and sportswriters) sometimes feels like it's coming off the top rope when a telegraphed slingshot into the turnbuckle would suffice.

Baseball's place in the American sporting consciousness remains unique. It owns the stage from June until September, and its daily pace helps give the summer a narrative. Winning streaks mean euphoria. Losing streaks feel interminable. But the connection is constant.

"Bah," you might say with an eyeroll. "Baseball's day has passed."

While it's true the game desperately needs to accelerate pace of play and increase the action on the field — all those homers and strikeouts can be pretty numbing, click, click, click — let's not pretend MLB is in danger of folding or anything.

Major League Baseball remains the second most valuable league in the world, with annual revenues of roughly $10 billion. That's more than the English Premier League and NHL combined. Even with an attendance drop of 14.5 percent since 2007, baseball still draws nearly 70 million fans a year. In addition, its broadcast rights remain more lucrative than ever, with Fox, ESPN, and Turner Sports negotiating deals totaling more than $13 billion.

Those are just numbers, though. What I miss is more personal.

I've walked into Fenway Park probably 2,000 times since 1996, and the sight atop of the first ramp outside Gate D never gets old — the grandstand, the impossibly green grass, the Monster. There's a part of me that still feels like the kid attending his first game in 1982, marveling that the park could simultaneously feel so big and yet so intimate.

Summer nights mean the murmur of the crowd wafting through the radio while lighting the grill, or flipping on a few innings to unwind. Just because fewer and fewer fans want to sit through an entire three and a half hour game anymore doesn't mean they're ignoring the product altogether. Baseball can be consumed in bites, two innings here, four innings there. It's nice to know it's always an option and if you want to scream that that proves it's irrelevant, have at it. I just happen to disagree.

I still love the game itself, though it's certainly trying my patience from a pace perspective.

The individual battles provide endless opportunities for second-guessing and analysis, from pitchers vs. hitter, to fielder vs. runner, to manager vs. manager. It's the one sport everyone in my generation played growing up (clarification: mostly just the boys), so it's the one sport we could identify with on even the smallest level. I understand that millennials and Gen Z were doing other things.

You know why else I miss baseball? Because in a time of crisis, it has often helped unite and/or heal us. Think players answering the call during World War II and Korea, George W. Bush throwing out the first pitch at the 2001 World Series after 9/11, or of course, Boston Strong in the wake of the Marathon bombings.

Nothing will say return to normalcy like packing Fenway Park again (although who knows if we'll ever view large crowds the same way again). And even if that day remains weeks or months or maybe even a year away, it will happen.

And on that day, I will be there, and you'll be watching, and we'll collectively celebrate the return of this maddening, confounding, perfectly imperfect game.

 

Who are the best center fielders in Red Sox history? Ranking the Top 5

Who are the best center fielders in Red Sox history? Ranking the Top 5

The Red Sox have employed all manner of center fielders throughout their history.

Whereas left field has generally been home to run producers and right to all-around threats, the men in the middle have covered a wide range of styles. There are straight speedsters like Jacoby Ellsbury, defensive dynamos like Jackie Bradley Jr., fun-loving eccentric types like Johnny Damon, underappreciated standouts like Ellis Burks, and even plodding sluggers like Tony Armas.

Get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App

Only in recent years have the Red Sox consistently prioritized defense in the role, from Coco Crisp to Ellsbury to Bradley.

But that doesn't mean they haven't featured some talented players there, including a turn-of-century Hall of Famer, the younger brother of baseball royalty, and the one who fans over 50 still lament got away.

Click here for the Top 5 center fielders in Red Sox history.

MLB's Top 100 players for 2020 season: Numbers 100-76

MLB's Top 100 players for 2020 season: Numbers 100-76

There was once a time when a list of baseball's top 100 players would've been dominated by men in their 30s or even 40s. In 2004, for instance, the NL MVP was 39-year-old Barry Bonds and the Cy Young went to 41-year-old Roger Clemens. It was the seventh respective award for each.

We now can be almost certain that neither accomplishment was achieved without help, but if any good came from that era, it's that it forced baseball to address its PED problem, which means that a top 100 list now looks very different.

Get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App

Our list will reflect that shift. What it won't include are three pitchers guaranteed not to play in 2020 because of Tommy John surgery — Noah Syndergaard of the Mets, Luis Severino of the Yankees, and of course Chris Sale of the Red Sox.

Over the next four weeks, NBC Sports Boston will unveil its top 100 players, 25 at a time, and the list is dominated by youth. Never have young players been so essential to winning, whether it's 20-year-old Juan Soto helping lead the Nationals to last fall's shocking World Series title, or 23-year-old Cody Bellinger being named NL MVP.

Click here for Part 1: Players ranked 100th to 76th on our list.