xName TagsAs promised in an earlier Saturday Morning Ramble, we planned, schemed, and hosted our first ever Super Bowl Party this year. A mixture of longtime friends, friends from Saturday Night Trivia, and a small collection of “Who are the people in your neighborhood?” joined us, thirty-two in all. The youngest in the crowd is just about ready to celebrate her first birthday; the oldest was most likely me.

xStadium EntranceA trio of screens were positioned in different sections of the living room, dining room, and kitchen. Two of the three were synced with the audio. The one that wasn’t seemed to bother me more than anyone else. We constructed a temporary entrance tunnel that led guests from the parking lot to the stadium. Everyone had a press pass, making it easier for those who didn’t know each other previously to interact during the game. Food, there was food, two tables of it and a host of dessert dishes on a third makeshift table. We had a fun little wagering game for everyone to play. And we had ourselves an event. It was fun and I can’t wait to amp it up a notch next year.

Most left after Lady Gaga’s halftime show, with the Falcons leading comfortably 21-3 and the thoughts of getting up early the next morning for work and school on their minds. The second half, especially the second half of the second half, proved to be a thrill a minute ride for Patriot fans and the ultimate undoing of the Falcons. Coming back from a 28-3 deficit in the biggest game of the year no doubt fueled water cooler discussions for several days afterwards. Did the Patriots orchestrate a comeback for the ages? Or, did the Falcons choke? Was it a mixture of both? Chatter. Chatter. Chatter.

Amidst these discussions that reverberated through the world of sports-fandom, there were two stories of breaking news from other sports that flew quietly past, under the radar. The baseball world is considering something absurd to fix a problem that doesn’t really exist and the NBA just went full-scale avatar.

The full moon is blazing in the clear, early morning sky right now for the second morning in a row and maybe that’s prompting some of this post-Super Bowl madness on my part. Maybe I’m just mad and haven’t yet been diagnosed properly. Who knows for sure and who really cares? I’ve got coffee, a bit of a kink in my Chi, a keyboard, and at least one reader (my wife).

Let’s pinch Major League Baseball on the cheek first. The powers that be perceive that they have a major problem on their hands with the amount of time it takes to complete some games. Let’s emphasize the some, shall we. This is not a widespread problem by any stretch of the imagination. Of the nearly 2,600 games that are played each season, the vast majority are completed in less than 2½ hours. A few hundred creep close to, or slightly over the 3 hours mark. And, about 60 or so games each year stretch into extra innings to the point of exceeding 4 hours. That’s 60 out of nearly 2,600. Unfortunately, since nearly every baseball game is televised, this unequal time distribution causes a bit of concern for the networks and the rare uber-lengthy games become a complete programming nightmare.

Unpredictability is the issue, not the length of the game itself. Keep in mind that the Australian Open just concluded a few weeks ago with back to back matches featuring Rafael Nadal that exceeded 5 hours. I don’t know who gets excited about settling into a 5 hour tennis match, but evidently some do and the networks can plan for it. In the grand scheme, it’s far easier to adjust to a sporting event finishing early than it is to one dragging well past the allotted time slot for broadcast.

MLB is entertaining a number of ideas about how to speed up the game including making it no longer mandatory to actually throw 4 pitches to intentionally walk a batter. They are also entertaining the concept of starting each inning with a runner on second base once a game exceeds 9 innings. Both of those changes alter the integrity of the game, changing how it is actually played. Both changes literally say, “Let’s just get this over with,” as if the game is somehow in the way. Neither change needs to be made and neither change makes the game better.

There is one simple change that does need to be made and would ultimately make the game better. Late inning pitching changes need to have a simple guideline. If a manager brings a relief pitcher into a game, that pitcher must not only pitch to the first batter he faces, but he must continue to pitch until he has allowed any additional batter to reach base or the inning ends. The process of bringing in a pitcher to get one guy out and then going to get a fresh arm is downright painful for all watching. Without going on a lengthy diatribe about how detestable this practice is, let’s just scratch it out of a manager’s list of options. If I wanted to watch a managerial chess match, I’d watch two managers play chess.

Here’s the magic of baseball. The people who really enjoy it, are the people who grew up playing it. We’ve felt the crack of the bat and chased down a fly ball. We’ve raced home, trying to beat a throw from the outfield or sprinted toward first base as if our hair was on fire because our mighty swing produced an infield dribbler. In watching a game, we reconnect with our own glory days of yesteryear when we wore the knickers and had a number on our back. Baseball doesn’t need a time clock because it transcends time and continuously connects the past with the present in magical harmony. To paraphrase Billy Chapel,

“The game doesn’t stink, Mr. Manfred.
It’s a great game!”

Basketball started crawling down the short tunnel into an even darker hole this week when they announced a partnership with the video game, NBA 2K. The league (and the gaming company) is working to establish a virtual league which will actually scout and draft “gamers” as players in a virtual franchise in a virtual league… only it’s real gamers who will become real players in a real gaming league that will emulate actual NBA players by playing out a virtual/real 82 game schedule, playoffs and a real/virtual championship.

I kid you not. The gamers will be under contract as full-time employees of the E-League and are subject to being drafted, traded, waived, and one would think, the eventual free agent market. Is this the future of sports???

Have we actually gone from this…

…to this in my lifetime?

It would appear that we have. Maybe my Sci-Fi author friends are correct. It appears that the fix is in. Maybe I will be able to upload my virtual essence into a replaceable receptacle and live forever… virtually. Super Bowl CI (that’s 101, for you non-Romans) is only a download away. Cheers!

Quick Links to Mark’s Books on Amazon:

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