Three Strikes and We’re Out?

Baseball might be back, but will we be?

Tonight debuts the 2009 season of Major League Baseball amid some of the most tumultuous relations between the league and its fans since the strike season of 1994. The recent outing of mega-paid superstar Alex Rodriguez of steroids use is just one example of many of beloved players (well, he’s not so beloved in Seattle or Texas) being caught cheating at “America’s pastime.”

Not only that, but America is in the middle of an economic recession. Money’s tight, families are cutting back. Will teams be able to fill up stadium seats for the entire season? Prospects are looking grim in this area.

The cost of going to a baseball game has gone up since, well, as long as I can remember. Attending a New York Yankees game, for example, in their new stadium, will cost at least $350 and at the most $2,625 for a lower deck seat.

Yes, you read that right. A single ticket at the Yankee’s new stadium can cost up to $2,625. Who can afford to pay that? Ironically, the players can. They’re the only ones who can afford to shell out that much dough to see a game that you can watch easily on television.

Just ask new Yankees superstar Mark Teixeira, who during the off-season signed an eight-year $180 million contract. He’s not the only Yankee who is paid that much money. The previously mentioned A-Rod and fellow stars Derek Jeter and new pitcher C.C. Sabathia are paid comparable fees.

“Like every election, it’s the economy,” Teixeira said. “In tough times, disposable income may not be there.”

Yeah, you’re one to talk, buddy.

The Seattle Mariners, my home team, are no better. They had the privilege last year of becoming the first team in Major League history to lose 100 games (they lost 101) while having a payroll of more than $100 million ($117 million payroll on opening day). That’s disgusting considering the Tampa Bay Rays went to the World Series on a fraction of that.

So here’s the deal: players are becoming more selfish, players are sacrificing integrity for power stats, and tickets are becoming too expensive to afford. Three strikes and you’re out. This is not a good combination.

Besides, baseball is not as popular as it once was. Today, the National Football League is much more popular than Major League Baseball. “America’s pastime?” Maybe not anymore.

But here is the bright side: baseball has a way of persevering. When World War II broke out and the U.S. was forced to become involved, baseball persisted even as some players left to fight overseas. The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League formed as a result, which encouraged women to enter into athletic competition. Ever seen “A League of Their Own?”

Baseball served as a way for African Americans to empower themselves. The famed Negro League allowed black baseball players to play professionally for just as long as white players were able. The famous Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier by playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, a few years before the Civil Rights movement became a mainstream social cause. Baseball proved that the art of athletic sport is colorblind and can teach us to come together by sharing an interest that we have in common.

After 9/11, it became essential that baseball resume playing in wake of the attacks. Returning to “normalcy” means returning to playing the game that is truly “American.”

(It is important to note that the origins of baseball is ambiguous. Some say it is European in origin, but for our purposes, let’s assume the game we know today is of American invention)

Living through the summer and fall without hearing the crack of the bat would be unpatriotic, right? In fearful times, it was important that we knew that there would be stability in our lives. Watching the playoffs and World Series reminded us of better times.

And now flash forward to today. In the wake of the banking crisis and Bernard Madoff scandal, it is easy for baseball fans (and even non-fans) to become disenfranchised with players’ high paid contracts and cheating ways. But if history has taught us anything, it is that the game will always go on. When things get bad, people revert to what is familiar to them. Going to the stadium and cheering for your home team can be just the trick.

Will fans be back for this season? I’m sure of it. There might be a slight downturn in attendance, but once the economy gets back to normal and the steroids era comes to an end, going to the ballpark will be business as usual.

Now go buy yourself a box of Cracker Jacks and don’t care if you ever get back.

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