Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Why I Prefer Going to Major League Baseball Games Over NBA Games (or the Realization That I'm Getting Old)

This post actually piggybacks off of another one I recently wrote titled Why I Love Sports. That one, which you can (and should) go back and read if you haven't already, was inspired by a comment one of my daughters made at an NBA game which led to the realization that even though I love rooting for my favorite teams, I just enjoy sports in general and for many reasons. There was one sentence in that piece, though, that germinated in my mind and which led to this offshoot post: "we had fun although the constant barrage on the senses (mainly noise) of modern NBA games drove me absolutely nuts (that's a topic for another post)."  At work the day after that game, a coworker asked me how the game was. I reiterated to him that the game itself was fun, but that the game presentation left a lot to be desired. He agreed and then we laughed when we realized we sounded like two cranky old men (I'm pushing 40 and he is in his mid-50s). Still, when I mentioned to him that, for as much as I love basketball, I will go to a baseball game over a basketball game nine times out of ten, he agreed. As is typical with the way my mind works, that got the wheels in my head turning and spawned this post that you're now reading.

So what is it about the experience of a baseball game that I like more than a basketball game? (Or conversely, what is it I dislike more about basketball games than baseball games?). Before I start, let me point out that this isn't me saying one sport itself is better than the other. Anyone who knows me and/or has read this blog knows of my passion for baseball, but I am just as passionate about basketball. They were the two sports I started playing and watching when I was five years old and I'm as big a Boston Celtics fan as I am a Boston Red Sox fan. When my wife and I were dating in college and into the early years of our marriage (i.e. before kids), we used to go to tons of Celtics and Red Sox games in Boston. They were always a lot of fun and we managed to still get to the occasional game when our kids were small, but it wasn't until the last few years once our youngest was old enough that we started taking the kids with us. We've taken them to see the Red Sox at two different ballparks (including their first trip to Fenway Park) as well as multiple AA and AAA minor league games. The NBA game we went to recently was their first, though; it was also the first one I'd been to in probably six or seven years. What struck me was how different the in-game experience was in 2018 compared to 2012 when I last went. For all of the games I'd been to since the mid-1990s, I remembered a fair bit of extraneous stuff that went on in between the game action. They'd play some music during TV timeouts or game timeouts, between quarters, and of course at halftime. There was the occasional t-shirt cannon fired into the crowd and of course the silliness on the JumboTron. But there was never, EVER, anything going on during the game except for the game itself. The second the whistle blew and the ball was inbounded, the music, the noise, the extra stuff all stopped and the focus went back to the game. Well, let me tell you that it wasn't like that at the game we just went to a couple of months ago. There was all of the requisite and expected noise during the down time, but during the game itself there was constant music, constant flashing lights, constant nonsense on the JumboTron, just constant STUFF going on. It was so loud and bright and incessant that it drove me nuts. With all the garbage going on during the game, I can't imagine it wasn't as distracting for the players as it was for us in the stands and it's a testament to their focus that they could filter all of that out. Speaking of focus, it's a sad statement on how short out attention spans are as a society that all of the bells and whistles are necessary to keep people entertained when, you know, the actual BASKETBALL GAME itself should be the reason we're all there in the first place. It made me realize how fortunate we are that all of that unremitting noise isn't audible when watching the games on TV.

Now contrast that with watching baseball at a ballpark. True, it's not a sport that lends itself to short attention spans and constant commotion in the first place, but that's one of the many things outside of the game itself that I love about it. When you go to the ballpark, you go for the experience and the atmosphere as much as for the game. What do you hear the majority of the time when you're there? Mainly it's the sounds of the game. The murmur of conversation throughout the ballpark, people yelling out cheers (or jeers), vendors hawking beer and soda and popcorn and peanuts, polite applause after a pitch or a put-out, the crack of the bat, the ball smacking the leather of a glove, the sudden rush of excitement when the ball is put in play. Sure, there's a bit of noise at baseball games, mainly the walk-up music for each hitter (which I think is silly). Still, it's only a 5-6 second snippet per hitter over the course of a nine inning game. For minor league games (of which we go to many), there's a bit more in the way of entertainment during down time, but minor league teams have long been known for this in their attempt to draw people to their ballparks and it's actually one of the charms of minor league baseball. Usually there will be silly things like a wacky race between some kids or a quiz where the contestants chosen from the crowd can win prizes, but even these are much less noisy and irritating than those during NBA games. I'm sure being outside at a ballpark versus inside an enclosed arena helps the sound to breathe and dissipate more which makes baseball games seem less noisy. Again, I realize the nature of the two sports is quite different, but it didn't always used to be so oppressively noisy at NBA games.

Perhaps it's simply a sign of the times? Basketball is full of fast-paced action and NBA gives you constant stimulation of the senses which caters to today's low/no-attention span society. Contrast it with baseball which is more old fashioned, slower paced, demands much more attention, and only has short bursts of action in between pitches. MLB and MILB couldn't get away with offering an NBA-styled in-game experience because it doesn't lend itself to the sport at all. As I rapidly near forty years of age, and even though mentally and physically I still feel like I'm only twenty, I've come to the irrefutable conclusion that I vastly prefer going to baseball games over basketball games, at least of the professional variety. Whether that means my tastes are changing because of age (I don't really think so) or that I just don't like the modern presentation of NBA games (which I'm sure is the real reason), I'm comfortable with this conclusion.

What about you? Do you prefer one over the other? And if so, why?

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