Monday, January 9, 2012

SMALLS TALK: When did "Can I have your autograph" turn into "Give me a ball"?

Kids these days - they always need more. It's no longer enough for youngsters to head to the ball game and root, root, root for the home team. What fun is that? They need a souvenir - something exclusive, something that separates them from others in attendance, a keepsake that makes them special. After all, it's all about them - isn't it?

At the risk of sounding like a crotchety old-timer reminiscing about the "good ol' days when men were men and the game was pure," I'd like to publicly call out this new generation of baseball fans. Boys and girls: the game you are watching is beautiful. It is timeless, and unites fans around the world who watch with the same passion and energy with which the game is played. The game has stood the test of time - it is bigger than you, than me, than anyone. People will come, Ray. People will most def... shoot, wrong speech - but I think you get my point.

Baseball is a game capable of evoking boyhood joy in fans of all ages. We all fell in love with the game at some point - whether it was while having a catch with Dad, playing wiffle ball until the street lights came on, or riding your bike to the park just to see who was playing - somewhere along the line, we were hooked. In our minds, the game will always be innocent and pure, and while the landscape of the game continues to change, the passion will always remain.

I can't help but wonder if this video game generation has fully grasped the beauty of America's pastime. I'd argue that my passion for the game was cultivated every day on my neighborhood streets. Alongside my three best pals, I'd play from the minute school ended until one of us was called in for dinner, and even then we left begrudgingly. Today, I look around at the bare roads by my house and wonder: "Where did all the kids go?"

Sure, they may be doing other baseball-related activities - maybe playing Nintendo Wii Baseball, or checking the lineups of their Fantasy team - but that's not the same. My friends and I grew up in awe of the game, wondering what would happen next even as we ourselves played. With today's technology, this generation grew up manipulating the game, tailor-fitting it to their own needs and desires. Their interaction with the game itself is distant and detached, and as a result, the whole dynamic of player-fan interaction has changed immensely.

As a kid, if a college or professional ballplayer approached me, I would be star struck. I may not have been able to tell you his name, but he was a big deal. He was what I strived to someday be, I was in the presence of greatness - and if he signed an autograph for me? He could officially do no wrong - he was my hero.

These days, autographs are for the birds. Walk down the left field line after a game and it's Hey, give me a ball!...Can I have your bat? And on the occasion when you're feeling charitable and throw a ball into the crowd, after the catch it's always a boastful turn to his buddy to show him what he got - never a thank you or second thought to the player on the giving end. Hey, he came to your game - you owed it to him.

Shameless and aggressive. Whether they've poked their head into the dugout to request a ball or they're begging you non-stop in the on-deck circle for a bat - the bat you're about to use at the plate, no less - they're not afraid to cross boundaries. Anything for that souvenir.

When I was a kid, the only way you went home from a game with a baseball was when a foul ball landed near your seat. But in today's world of participation awards and 10th-place trophies, going home empty-handed is unthinkable. In never-ending efforts to make the game more accessible through contests and meet-and-greets, the young fan has become entitled. Going home with the memory of a fun day at the park is no longer satisfying - give me something I can touch.

I realize the vast generalization I am making here, but by no means have I lost hope for this generation. There are plenty of kids who still enjoy a day at the ballpark, who appreciate an autograph for the interaction rather than the signature, who would rather throw a ball than swing a white controller mimicking throwing a ball. To them, the game is fun - the game is pure, and admittedly, it's bigger than them. And it is this bunch of kids - those not asking, but just happy to be there - who will be getting balls thrown their way down the Left Field line this season.


  1. agree 100%, today's kids would rather play virtual baseball than go outside and get dirty!

  2. I always make a point to give balls to the quiet kid directly next to the obnoxious one, never gets old for me haha