Love is in the air. Sure, it could just be the buzz from eating all those candy hearts, but there’s another, bigger reason: baseball — and the Yankees — are back. Pitchers and catchers have taken the field, and life just seems a little sweeter.
Yet every year, we hear the same old story: baseball is dying. Falling attendance, sluggish pace of play, overlong broadcasts, cheating scandals, labor strife — there’s no shortage of maladies that seem to threaten the sport’s existence.
But we’ve heard claims of baseball’s demise decade after decade. Somehow, America’s pastime endures. Major League Baseball has stuck around — thrived, in some ways — through the NFL’s cultural hegemony, the NBA’s recent rise, and global soccer’s arrival in the U.S. market.
Maybe I’m blinded by love, but this persistent concern about baseball’s survival actually seems like a sign of the game’s health. We fret over baseball’s every misstep and setback like it’s our own vulnerable child, tottering about like baby Yoda. We only want to see baseball flourish, and the players are no different. Whatever you think of him, Trevor Bauer rants about the state of Major League Baseball because he is deeply invested in its success — and not just because he makes a living at it.
No idea who made this new playoff format proposal, but Rob is responsible for releasing it, so I’ll direct this to you, Rob Manfred. Your proposal is absurd for too many reasons to type on twitter and proves you have absolutely no clue about baseball. You’re a joke.— Trevor Bauer (@BauerOutage) February 11, 2020
Millions of fans may worry, like Bauer, that the league has alienated a generation of fans. But they worry precisely because they care. Even with all the chronic anxiety over the sport’s future, one thing is undeniably true: every new season offers moments that capture the hearts of new fans, and remind existing fans from the Bronx to Los Angeles why they fell in love with baseball in the first place.
Every fan has at least one defining baseball memory. The game leaves indelible impressions, interwoven with its long, mythical (and often Yankees-oriented) history. For some it’s Cal Ripken Jr.’s glorious trot around Memorial Stadium after surpassing Lou Gehrig’s record for consecutive games played. Others look back at Mark McGwire’s happy feet nearly skipping first base after he supplanted Roger Maris as the single-season home run king in 1998. New Yorkers could revisit pretty much any game that year for the 114-win Yankees, who set a new, near-invincible standard for the club.
Sometimes, fans recall certain moments with bitterness (looking at you, McGwire home run.) A precious memory can sour. But if that doesn’t sound like love, I don’t know what does. And while the memories listed above peg me as a child of the nineties, moments like these blossom every season. Yours might star Reggie Jackson stirring the drink in four-homer fashion, or feature a highlight reel of Hideki Matsui going Godzilla on the Phillies. The romance of the game is irresistible in any era.
Those ‘98 Yankees began my fascination, but the 2001 squad made me fall in love. I remember a dynasty on its last legs, gutting it out for a wounded New York, led by Mr. November himself. I remember feeling the dangerous, intoxicating hero worship fans lavish on athletes, grown men paid to play a little boy’s game. And most of all, I remember Alfonso Soriano with his fist in the air as he rounded the bases in Arizona, moments after lashing what I just knew was the World Series-winning home run off Curt Schilling. That was my Moment, capital M.
We all know how that turned out. But heartbreak is part of the deal. The scars are as important as the successes. Worrying, agonizing, suffering — they’re the price we pay for the unforgettable stuff. So while the challenges baseball faces today and in the future are real, and most certainly won’t be solved by a shiny new playoff structure, they pale in comparison to the game’s promise of special moments to come. The new Yankees season is almost here, and again, maybe it’s the Valentine’s Day candy talking, but I’m going to love every minute of it.