When I was a kid, watching baseball on television was a ritual. My dad in his chair doing a crossword, my mom in her chair knitting while I sat on the rug between them with my baseball cards in front of me. When Jim Rice came up, I'd pull out his card and check the back for stats and interesting facts, I did the same for Wade Boggs, Dwight Evans and even for the opposing team. Watching baseball is a perfect spectator sport for the multi-tasker. Apparently, kids aren't having this experience with baseball anymore. I've heard that the game is too slow and too long. This is sad news.
If length of the game is the problem, then the problem is not going away anytime soon. It has steadily increased over time. In 2010, the average nine inning game was 2 hours and 55 minutes. This year it was 3 hours and 8 minutes. In that same period, run scoring per game has gone down. So it has nothing to do with higher scoring games. A number of ideas have been bouncing around to speed up the game. Some of them sound interesting and others are quite laughable. Implementation of some of them in the minor leagues and independent leagues has had mixed results. One of them is the 27 second pitch clock. If the pitcher takes longer than 27 second, an automatic ball is called. This may affect some of the more slower pitchers like Jonathon Papelbon who takes about 30 second between each pitch, but it won't affect most of them. Famously, Mark Buerhle of the White Sox only takes 16 seconds, really messing with a batter's timing because he is so fast.
Another rule would require the batter to keep one foot in the batter's box throughout an at-bat. If the batter stepped out, they would get a strike. A few other ideas: limiting the time between innings to 2 minutes and 5 seconds, having a designated runner (a DR) for the catcher so that he has time to put his equipment on after he bats and limiting the visits to the mound to three per team per game. The problem I have with all this is that I find nothing wrong with the game. The longer the game, the more baseball I get. I don't think length of the game or slowness is the problem. People leave the game on in a room and do other things, often tuning in when the announcer gets excited or when your team is batting or when your favorite player comes up. Like a lot of sports fans, some people just tune in late in the game. Nothing compares to a walk-off win.
If Major League Baseball wants kids to be interested (which I agree is important for the longevity of the game), I have some ideas that don't involve messing up the actual game that we love. For one, make the games more accessible to everyone. Currently, play-off games start at 8pm to make them prime time, some of them end at 1am. In 2004, when my Sox were in the post season the entire month of October, I was exhausted. All of New England was walking around like zombies the whole month. Everyone I know who had kids at the time, wanted to let the kids stay up to see the ends of the games, but they just couldn't. It was too late. If they started the games at 5 or 6pm on the East coast, we'd all be able to watch most of the game. The diehards would rather miss the beginning of the game than the end. This would mean that games would start at 2 or 3pm on the West coast which would be great for the kids. They could stagger these times depending on the target audience.
Make the MLB network free with basic cable. I am serious. When I was a kid, we could see the Red Sox game every night on TV 38 - Boston. This was before cable. Even when we spent the night in the cabin in southern RI, we had a black and white set on our screened porch. Sometimes the screen wasn't very clear and the sound was staticky so we'd turned down the volume on the TV and listened to the radio announcers. I would do like to do this today because I don't like Jerry Remy (the Red Sox television announcer) and I love Joe Castiglione (their radio announcer), but MLB instituted a time delay. The radio is a little bit behind the television so you are forced to listen to TV announcers if you are watching the TV. It almost seems like MLB does't want to you to enjoy the game. They keep putting up barriers for the fans.
One big barrier: the cost of the game. My dad used to take me to the games in the late 70's and early 80's. A working class parent could take their kid to the game for a small amount of money back then. We'd have the full baseball experience. The travel into Boston from Rhode Island, the walk through the Fenway neighborhood with the cornucopia of street vendors, the hot dogs, the peanuts, the crazy fans ... and of course, Fenway Park and the game. A fan was born, how could I help it. I was indoctrinated at an early age. I can't see a working class family getting this experience very often, if ever. We'd go once a year. How about something some ticket lottery or working class New England towns like Lowell, Brockton or Woonsocket? Good tickets for a family of four with coupon at the park. They do a little of this now. It needs to be done more. Minor league games are good for this now, but there is nothing like a Major League ball game.
My basic cable packages doesn't have ESPN, TBS, NESN or Fox Sports 1. That means that not only haven't I been able to see any post season games at home until the World Series started yesterday, but I haven't been able to see most of the Red Sox games all year. The only Red Sox games that I have been able to see in my home are the rare games that have played on the regular FOX network channel. Those have been rare. I'd pay for the MLB package, but that package blacks out Red Sox games if you live in New England. I would buy NESN (New England Sport Network) which plays most of the Red Sox games, but it would cost a small fortune. I'd have to upgrade to digital cable and a package that has several hundred other channels, none of which I would watch. I have no interest in the Golf Channel, the SOAP channel or BETV. The only things I watch on TV (not including Hulu or Netflix) is baseball, the major political events (speeches, debates etc.) and Jeopardy. I refuse to pay a fortune for a bunch of channels I don't watch just to have baseball in my home. Since I only want baseball, I should be able to pay for only baseball. If they can't accommodate me then they don't get my business. I know I am not alone.
With an $8.00 a year subscription, I now listen to the game on my phone. Like when I was a kid, I keep busy during the game, looking up stats etc. It is a lot easier and more fun with the internet. It is because kids have such a short attention span that baseball is the perfect for them. They can play a video, catch on social media and watch a baseball game all at the same time. I wrote most of this while watching the game yesterday. Game two is about to start. Gotta go. Go Royals!