Column: From National Pastime to National Past-Your-Bedtime
ALLISON PARK, Pa. (AP) — No.
No, you can’t stay up until past midnight to watch the World Series.
No, you can’t hide under your covers with the iPhone that I shouldn’t have given you yet and listen to the game on the radio.
No, this isn’t a lazy summer evening when it’s barely dusk by 9 p.m. and when you can sleep in until 11 tomorrow. This is a school night in late October and you’re in middle school now and besides, you have reading to do and you’re already too cranky when we get you up in the morning.
No, actually, your late, baseball-loving grandfather never did it. The World Series was played during the day back then. The daytime. Yeah. Amazing, huh?
No. I don’t care if you love the Red Sox and I don’t care if you want to see Manny Machado play in his first World Series. No, I don’t care that David Freese was on the Pirates until the Aug. 31 trade and is back in the part of the postseason that made him famous in the first place.
No. Go to bed. It’s almost 11. You’re almost 12.
No, no, no, no and no.
Also: Get off my lawn, you damn kids!
Baseball, you’re spewing out parental agita like balled-up pieces of clothing from a T-shirt gun with this thing you’ve been doing lately with the concept of “late” — by which we mean late game starts in late October and, very occasionally since 2001, November.
Yes, it’s called the Fall Classic. But we’ve started living in an era when Mr. October could conceivably be Mr. November, and The Boys of Summer are now quite squarely The Boys of Harvest and Hayride Season.
Fine. The baseball-industrial complex has gotten used to that, as evidenced by all the cool cold-weather gear worn this week by the Red Sox and Dodgers that undoubtedly will be bought as holiday gifts by all of us wannabes already anticipating the arrival of pitchers and catchers in February.
But it’s the late starts — and, by logical extension, the late endings — that are chafing the horsehide of some fans, particularly those of the parental variety. In these days of dinnertime darkness and fall-semester academic commitments, the National Pastime has become the National Past-Your-Bedtime.
Exhibit A: Game 1 of the 2018 World Series began on Tuesday night at 8:11 ET and ended nearly four hours later, on Wednesday morning, at 12:03 a.m. ET. That’s a school night, Commissioner Manfred. One of your key target demographics needs to finish its homework and brush its teeth.
Baseball wants and needs to corral younger fans. That much is certain. The game’s leaders have said it themselves on many occasions, and tried to act accordingly. So much of baseball’s imagery and continuously reinforced mythology is kid-based and family-focused.
This makes sense both tactically and strategically. That’s not only the audience that the leagues need for business purposes right now, but it’s a population of sturdy American saplings that will preserve the game and position it for coming decades in a landscape of far flashier sports.
So why, then, ensure that the electrically charged season climax is either a) off limits to those who live in stricter households or b) a source of scratchiness between parents and kids otherwise predisposed to love baseball together and not have it come between them?
Yes, you need to have night games. Yes, the networks call some of the time-slot shots. But a 7:05 p.m. start seems to work just fine for many of 162 games during the year, so why not now?
That extra hour could make all of this accessible to so many more people and ensure that your family fans, tucked away in their homes with Halloween pumpkins out front, are shouting at the screen together and not at each other.
Take it from those shouting up at you from the parent-child trenches: This is probably an issue that warrants a committee or a task force or a bipartisan commission, if not a special prosecutor.
A family room north of Pittsburgh shortly after 11 p.m. on a frosty Wednesday night in late October 2018. The Red Sox, bolstered by J.D. Martinez’s bat and the acrobatics of Andrew Benintendi in left field, are about to take Game 2 of the series.
On the floor, wrapped in a blanket like an oversized convenience-store burrito, lies an almost-12-year-old baseball fan who spent the earlier part of the evening beseeching his father to let him stay up and watch. And watch he did, raptly — through about the sixth inning. At this moment, as the Sox’ second victory of the day (remember that 12:03 a.m. ending in Game 1) approaches, he is fast asleep.
Eight hours later, on Thursday morning, some of his first words as he begins his daily resistance to getting out of bed and getting moving for school are these: “Who won? I fell asleep.”
We tell our stories of baseball-saturated summers under the covers with transistor radios (then) and smartphones (now). And we smile, knowingly, at the pleasant, American subversiveness of it all — kids who loved and love baseball so much that they instigate mild rebellions to avoid bedtime and get their fixes.
Yet we are also the country where, a few years back, a book called “Go the __ to Sleep” became a best seller thanks to a wave of parental purchases. Bear that in mind, Major League Baseball, as you decide on start times for the games we once dreamed of playing in and now would like to let our sweet but occasionally combative children watch unfettered.
Until then, when it comes to late-October baseball, there are going to be a lot more answers of “no” to your future core audience than you’d probably prefer.
Now get off my lawn. Seriously. There’s frost on it, and it’s dark, and it’s slippery. Plus, it’s a school night and I have to go the __ to sleep.
Ted Anthony, director of digital innovation for The Associated Press, writes frequently about American culture. Follow him on Twitter at @anthonyted