The collective bargaining agreement that existed between the Major League Baseball Players Association and Major League Baseball expired December 2, 2021. The two parties have been unable to come to any agreement in the 85 days between then and today, although they didn’t start negotiations until the middle of January. In any case, if no agreement is reached by 5:00 p.m. this afternoon, MLB will begin to cancel regular season games, spring training having already been delayed.
Not me, anymore.
My “fandom” has been well-documented and dates back to 1964 when I was seven, but MLB has trifled with my affections once too often. It thinks it is the game of baseball, but it is not. It is a corporation whose business is baseball, but it is most decidedly not the game. The game may be found in backyards and local diamonds and high school fields and at the nation’s colleges. This last, the college game, is rising in popularity and is doing so for one simple reason—it is entertaining. Meanwhile, professional baseball is becoming much less so. In its quest for perfection by experimenting with electronic strike zones and promoting lengthy replays; in its quest for pitchers who do nothing but strike out batters and batters who do nothing but hit home runs—or strike out—major league baseball has been reduced to a robotic sameness.
Of course, the quality of play in college is not nearly as good as it is even in the low minor leagues, but that contributes to its unpredictability. Consider the series played on Opening Weekend, February 12-14 this year in Austin, Texas between the #1 ranked University of Texas and Rice University. It featured a Texas infielder, Skyler Messinger, swinging at a pitch that hit him in the brim of his helmet. Except for the fact that this was strike three, he walked away none the worse for wear. Such oddball plays happen with much more frequency in college ball.
By no means, however, is college ball some poorly played exhibition. The UT/Rice series also featured two mammoth home runs by Longhorn first baseman, Ivan Melendez. The first was blasted over the batter’s eye in center; the second was launched over the scoreboard in left center. Each one traveled more than 450’. (Highlights of this game may be seen here. Melendez’ first homer comes at about the 5:00 minute mark, while homer #2 occurs at 8:22.) Those homers were baseball at its finest regardless of the level.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about this series against the unranked Rice Owls, is that it drew the largest Opening Weekend crowd in the history of Texas baseball. MLB take note of that. And of this: 2021 National Champion Mississippi State has sold 13,000 season tickets for 2022. (The Bulldogs’ Dudy Noble Field has 15,000 seats.)
If the college game features less skill, it more than compensates by featuring more fun. The fans are more enthusiastic and engage in a variety of celebrations and superstitions. The players are also much more apt to do something such as what you’ll see in this video announcing the new uniforms that Liberty University (just down the road from me in Lynchburg) will be wearing. This video alone should be enough to turn you into a college baseball fan:
I’ll still root for my beloved Orioles, but whether they start the season in April or in May or in 2023, just doesn’t matter anymore. What I can’t wait for is the last weekend in March when LSU visits the University of Florida. That will be fun that I can count on.