Baseball Is the Perfect Sport for 2021’s Attention Spans

Does this article’s headline make you fall out of your seat?  After all, for how long have we heard complaints about baseball like: “It’s too slow.”  “The games are too long.”  “There’s not enough action.”  “Kids like football, basketball, hockey, and soccer now.  Baseball is too boring for them.”  And so on and so on.  In fact, I would say that these criticisms sprouted near the turn of the millennium, around the time when we shifted from “The NFL does not want to schedule games during the World Series” to “MLB wants to avoid having playoff games when NFL games are happening.”  Furthermore, in the 2000 playoffs, I was alarmed to learn that seemingly mundane Monday Night Football matchups were beating Mets playoff games and Yankees playoff games in the ratings department.  At that point, I knew that football had overtaken baseball as “America’s sport”, even if baseball will always be “America’s pastime”.  

Over much of the 20 years that have followed, I have accepted that, while I will always love baseball, an average Mets game is less exciting to me than an average Devils game or average New York Giants game (to use the three teams of whom I am a fan).  When the Devils were dominant from 1993 through 2012 (more or less), I was glued to my TV screen or to the rink itself (if I was at the game) for all 60 minutes of every game I could watch.  However, while I love the Mets, I accepted that it is tough to stay glued to all pitches of 162 3-4-hour Mets games every season.  I have known for 20 years that what makes baseball great is that there are games nearly every day for 6 months.  I long ago accepted that I have Mets games on TV “while I am doing other things”, because it is unrealistic for me to give full devotion of my time to all pitches of all Mets games.  That said, what makes baseball fandom great is watching all of those seemingly less exciting spring summer games and hoping for the payoff of thrilling September and October games later in the season.  What makes baseball great is the fact that the Mets’ players and announcers feel like a part of my family from March through October.  While some people love to watch their drama on Bravo in the forms of “Real Housewives”, Netflix shows, or political channels; the baseball season is the ultimate drama for me.

Of course, over the past 20 years, few people have successfully sold these great afore-mentioned aspects of baseball.  All we hear is that we need to change the rules to entice younger fans to love baseball.  (And the only new rule change of the past few years that I actually like is the “3-batter minimum” rule.)  However, I happen to think that rumors of baseball’s demise are greatly exaggerated.  Furthermore, I actually think that, after two decades of us hearing that baseball is too slow for most people’s attention spans, baseball has actually become the perfect sport for the 2021 attention span.  (Cue the headline again.)

Allow me to explain.  Before March of 2020 brought our lives many Covid-related restrictions, Americans by and large were already bouncing between real life and two or three forms of media at almost all times.  Gone are the days when most sports fans sit on the couch to watch a sporting event with 100% focus.  Now, sports fans watch games while toggling between Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, texts, emails, and pictures on their phones.  All the while, these same fans are eating and drinking and maybe even listening to music.  Heck, there are some crazy people out there who also talk to other people in the room while watching sports.  (Not virtually but actually in person.  Can you believe it?)  Throw in the idea that plenty of people are also parenting kids at the same time.  Oh, also throw in the fact that over the past year of Covid-related restrictions, people have greatly increased their time at home, and we can now add Zoom to that long list of toggling activities from earlier.

Years ago, I vowed that I would never be one to multitask between so many devices, but that vow sailed off to sea a few years ago.  Then, once we reached the lockdown stage, with a complete dearth of sports to boot, I became a complete multitasker.  I check Twitter way too often; I text way too often; and, most importantly, I am thinking about “what else I could be doing” over what I am currently doing way too often.  There are plenty of times when I am eating a Moe’s burrito while watching “Seinfeld” reruns, scrolling through Twitter, texting, and looking at my road atlas (that last one is quite “me-specific”).

Anyway, as I was watching a Devils game recently, I became very disappointed in myself.  Playoff games and games I personally attend notwithstanding, gone are the days when I would be glued to all 60 minutes of every Devils game.  Gone are the days when I would actually be upset when even a Devils’ win would end, because my joy of watching a given game would be ending.  Now, when I am watching a Devils game, I have to psych myself up not to multitask.  I still love watching hockey, but I get mad at myself when I realize that I have missed a minute or two because I have been looking at my phone.  I hate that I ever have the urge to look at my phone during Devils games.  Hockey games are 60 minutes of action-packed excitement, and my mind should not wander during these games…but it does.

That said, this personal tale actually shows why baseball is the perfect sport for the modern sports fan.  I mentioned earlier that I long ago accepted that I have the Mets on TV while I am “doing other things”.  Well, modern life is all about “doing other things”.  A baseball game has become the perfect viewing activity for the modern fan!  You can be sending work emails, texting, watching your daily Candace Owens or Stephen Colbert clips (depending upon your side of the political equation), scrolling through Twitter and listening to a baseball telecast all at the same time.  Then, when the pitcher is ready to throw a pitch, you can give the game your singular focus and look at the TV…..or maybe you will choose to look at the TV only when a batter puts the ball in play or maybe only when there’s a very important pitch or maybe only if there is a runner in scoring position or maybe if it is the 7th inning or later, and so on and so forth.  All of these possibilities are viable, but you the viewer call the shots.  

Over the past 20 years, I feel that there has been a huge decline in our collective demand for things to which we want to give 3-4 hours of our undivided attention. However, there seems to be an infinite amount of demand for additional things that we can do while doing other things.  That is why baseball is perfect now.  Look at all the “problems” baseball has allegedly had over the past 20 years, and look at the modern solutions:

1) Problem: There are too many pitching changes.Solution: Pitching changes are perfect times to read articles linked to your Twitter feed.

2) Problem: There is too much time between pitches.Solution: This extra time allows you to send more texts between pitches.

3) Problem: Games are too long.Solution: Who cares?  You are on your devices 12 or more hours per day.  4-hour baseball games fit right in!

4) Problem: There is not enough action in baseball.Solution: Actually, there is TOO much action in the other sports.  I actually have to focus on the action all the time in those “more exciting” sports.  Baseball actually has the perfect amount of action.

And there you have it.  To be clear, I love hockey and football, and the nonstop action of hockey will always keep hockey as my personal favorite sport.  However, I love baseball (and football) almost as much as I love hockey. This is why I am happy to say that baseball is the perfect sport for 2021.  After 20 years of MLB trying to make itself more enticing to Americans; I think that we the people have flipped the script and made ourselves more “enticeable” by baseball.

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