Major League Baseball’s attendance figures — swelling over the past generation — finally have stagnated. Why? Maybe, as Yogi Berra once observed about a popular restaurant, “Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.”
In truth, it’s not the size of the crowd that’s problematic, it’s the sensibility of the crowd. But we’ll get back to that in a moment.
Who’s still going to baseball games? Plenty of Sports Nation. MLB, despite itself — the steroids era, rising ticket prices, the length of games and length of the season — still draws more people than the NFL, NBA and NHL combined, with fewer total dates.
(Let me qualify this by pointing out that MLB attendance totals are suspect. You would think that “attendance” means the number of people who attended the game. You would think wrong. MLB defines attendance as “tickets sold,” not “tickets used.” I’ve been to Dodgers games where they announce a crowd of 46,000 and I figure they must be double-counting fans with facelifts.)
(By the way, who are all these folks buying game tickets and then not going to the game? That would be like getting married and then not consummating the marriage. Been there, done that.)
But it’s the quality of the stadium experience that is wearing down some fans.
They gouge you on parking. They gouge you on concessions. And then they don’t even run hard to first base on groundballs. Seriously, what type of business charges you $35 for parking, then doesn’t refund your parking fee if the game is postponed before it even begins?
Baseball does, at Yankee Stadium.
More significantly, just sitting benignly and trying to watch the games has become a risky chore.
During my baseball-fandom heyday — circa 1980, as a wide-eyed, too-young-to-be-too-cynical University of Maryland almost scholar — I would drive to Baltimore with friends and future ex-wives for countless Orioles games. We were a hardy bunch — well, until we finally decided to invoke a “No Baseball Until May” rule because we had froze our butts on too many April nights — and always stayed from first pitch until final out.
(We didn’t care if it was 12-1 in the eighth — you don’t walk out midway through a Keanu Reeves movie because his acting is horrific, do you? — we persevered until the unexciting end.)
Nowadays, though, it’s tough sitting through all nine innings without getting in harm’s way.
The opening day Dodger Stadium parking lot incident, when two Dodgers fans pummeled a Giants fan after the game, wasn’t an aberration. Belligerent conduct has become a ballpark standard.
Sports is just supposed to be an outlet, something to make people feel better for a few hours. Somehow it’s become something else for too many unruly people, and the rest of us are buried in the rubble.
Some of it may be a result of displaced anger, I suppose. But, unquestionably, there has been a fundamental shift in public behavior in my adult lifetime. Common courtesy is for losers; these days, people act as if there’s no one around them.
(Speaking of which, memo to Southwest Airlines passengers: There’s a difference between carry-on bags and carrying on your life belongings. Some Southwest customers use the overhead bin as if it’s a monthly storage facility. Heck, I’ve seen these people boarding flights like they’ve just come from a yard sale. And half of them, of course, are on their cellphones, oblivious to whomever they are bumping, banging or blocking.)
If you bring kids to a game hoping for a family atmosphere, you’d be better off dropping them at a Comedy Central roast. Loud, profane and drunk is routine fare these days: It’s even money to have beer spilt on you before there’s a pitching change. Sitting in the upper deck is like going to a Hell’s Angels rally without a Harley.
My last time at Dodger Stadium, a year ago, I was thinking about this unseemly ballpark roulette and realized, “Why not just go to a movie, where you still get in and out hassle-free for 10 bucks or so?” It’s a “Win Win.” Plus, if anyone starts rudely talking during the feature presentation, you can just dump a Diet Coke on ’em.
Q. The Redskins won NFL titles following the strike-shortened 1982 and ’87 seasons. Does the threat of a truncated 2011 season establish them as the favorites for Super Bowl 46? (Larry Pryluck; Amissville, Va.)
A. I just hope Super Bowl Week doesn’t conflict schedule-wise with any of Dan Snyder’s lawsuits.
Q. The Cleveland Indians have a new “Your Dad’s Beer” stand this season featuring, among other brews, Pabst Blue Ribbon. When did you become my dad? (Dan Hanson; Cleveland)
A. Go to your room.
Q. Will Alex Ovechkin need to team with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to win a Stanley Cup? (Matt Kraft; Carmel, Ind.)
A. Pay the man, Shirley.
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