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  • The Baseball Experience

    The baseball experience

    JOHN M. CRISP - Scripps Howard News Service March 29, 2006

    Here in Texas, many baseball fans are looking forward to Opening Day in a new way this year, after the pleasure of watching the Houston Astros make their first trip to the World Series last October. True, the Astros made a quiet exit from the series in just four games, but after 40 years of waiting, for many fans that hardly mattered. It was a good year for baseball in Texas.

    Late in the season I saw the Astros play the Milwaukee Brewers in Houston's Minute Maid Park, an attractive modern ballpark built along traditional lines, the perfect setting for a quiet, relaxing afternoon of baseball.

    Well, not exactly quiet.

    The murmur and occasional roar of the fans were pleasant and nostalgic sounds, but the electronic supplements to the natural crowd noise _ the music between innings, the electronic encouragement to yell or clap, the bugle call _ at times were deafening. Literally.

    I happened to have a decibel meter with me: the electronic interludes _ between innings, between batters and sometimes between pitches _ often reached decibel levels in the mid-to-upper 90s.

    How loud is 90 decibels? It's the level of sound you'd experience standing close to a power mower. A chain saw reaches 100 decibels. Most organizations concerned with hearing loss agree that hearing damage begins at around 85 decibels. The extent is proportional to the time of exposure, but the damage itself is cumulative and irreversible.

    In short, if you're spending much time at most major- or minor-league ballparks, according to many organizations and agencies concerned with hearing, you're experiencing at least some hearing loss.

    For most people, the damage is probably minimal, but it accumulates with the damage that occurs elsewhere in our very loud and electronic culture.

    Here are an observation and an outlandish suggestion: Many ballparks have adopted a model common in our culture, a total entertainment package that allows for virtually no "dead air." Every lull is filled with electronic diversion, from music, to video on the outfield screens, to crowd-participation videogames.

    Baseball, however, of all our modern games, is probably the most traditional, the one most closely and most logically linked to pre-electronic days. It's a game that rewards concentration while the teams are playing and then provides a natural break every half-inning, the pause when nothing much appears to be happening, but which is very much a part of the traditional rhythm of the game.

    This is when you contemplate what's happened, or discuss it with the fan next to you. It's a time to relax before the tension and focus of the next half-inning. The pitcher warms, the next batter studies the pitches, and the outfielders throw impressively long, pure-white arcs across the green grass. You might get a hot dog. A committed fan will fill out the box score and consider the next three batters. Unfortunately, the modern, over-stimulated mode of baseball doesn't provide much time for this sort of traditional rhythm.

    Perhaps the game has to evolve, but it could be that in its attempts to fill every pause with entertainment, much more is being lost than just the ability to hear.

    Here's the outlandish suggestion: Perhaps two or three times a season, ballclubs could experiment with a game in the traditional mode, without electronic music or video. Hire an organ player. Let the fans regain control of their own cheering. They could call it "Hearing Preservation Night" or "Traditional Baseball Night." I'm guessing the fans wouldn't stay away because they're not entertained every moment or directed when to clap or cheer. In fact, they might actually enjoy using the pause between half-innings to relax or to instruct their children and themselves in the subtleties of the game.

    Here's Edward Abbey expressing a very old-fashioned sentiment on the subject:

    "Baseball is a slow, sluggish game, with frequent and trivial interruptions, offering the spectator many opportunities to reflect at leisure upon the situation on the field. This is what a fan loves most about the game."

    Unfortunately, these opportunities are virtually extinct in the modern game.


    (John M. Crisp is a professor in the English Department at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas. E-mail [email protected] )

  • #2
    sad but true

    This article really hit home with me. I was at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, FL last week for a Devil Rays-Orioles game. The number of distractions was ridiculous -- cheerleaders, T-shirt cannons, mascot clanging a cowbell, multiple jumbotrons, loud music. It all made it really hard to concentrate on the game.

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