Mark Franke: Getting baseball fix close to home


Now that the patriotic observances are past, it’s time to turn to another pillar of Americanism — baseball.

Despite the combined efforts of the commissioner, the club owners and the players union to price Major League Baseball games beyond the financial wherewithal of middle-class Americans, there are those idealists like me who just won’t give up on our national game.

I grew up with baseball, it being the only sport in those halcyon days that had organized competition in the summer. That was important only because my love of baseball had been nurtured every weekend by the Saturday Game of the Week with Buddy Blattner, Pee Wee Reese and Dizzy Dean.

Even more important was my weekly trip, 25 cents allowance in hand, to the neighborhood convenience store to buy several pieces of the worst bubblegum ever but each coming with a handful of player cards. Collecting baseball cards was a young boy’s raison d’etre.

My son has taken over the baseball collecting franchise in our family, having started as a teenager. My collecting has been limited to cards of the Fort Wayne TinCaps, a High A level team that sees me in the stands for nearly every home game. Fortunately, I can buy that season’s complete set in the team store at the stadium, sans bubblegum.

I am not quite ready to give up on the major leagues, but they are certainly trying my patience. Even though I pay an annual fee in excess of $100 to watch every MLB game, I find it frustrating with all of the special deals they are making with streaming services for exclusive broadcast rights that include blacking those games out.

I don’t begrudge someone’s maximizing income if the market bears, but part of that market is my pocketbook, which is under increasing strain. A friend, who sits across the aisle from me at the TinCaps, is a diehard Cincinnati Reds fan. Some games are not televised locally due to these special deals. Fort Wayne is considered a “local” market for the Reds (and Tigers and White Sox and Cubs), so we are blacked out on MLB and now occasionally on the local cable channel, as well.

And so I get most of my baseball fix in downtown Fort Wayne watching young players pursuing their dreams. It is pleasing to watch these players develop over the season. The bittersweet part of watching a talented young player perform well is that eventually, he will be promoted to AA. But that is the point of the minor leagues.

What is especially irritating about my hometown team is its affiliation with the San Diego Padres, a team I have absolutely no interest in following. Maybe that is OK for me as the Padres use talented minor leaguers primarily as trade fodder as they pursue an illusive World Series championship by dumping hundreds of millions on superstars. How is that working out for them? Check the standings.

We, the season ticket holders, try to follow TinCaps alumni even though very few play for the Padres. One local favorite, nicknamed “Goldilocks” by a beer vendor for his long hair, is a starting outfielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The publicity department of the TinCaps used to show a pregame video about former TinCaps now playing in the major leagues called “From the 260 (the telephone area code) to the Show.” They don’t do that anymore, perhaps because there are so few Padres to highlight?

I will confess to a strong bias on this. First, I am an American League fan. Second, I don’t acknowledge the legitimacy of any team that did not exist in 1951 or that has changed cities since 1959. Don’t ask me why those dates, but note that they bookend the greatest decade in my lifetime.

To affirm me in my prejudice, I just read six books about baseball in the 1950s. Roger Kahn’s “The Boys of Summer” was not one of them, but it probably deserves a reread. Baseball then was almost exclusively a New York City affair with nine of 10 World Series boasting one or both teams from there. I became a Yankees fan back then due to the TV and newspaper coverage they received and remain stubbornly loyal to this day.

Regardless of what MLB is doing to baseball to make it unaffordable, I can still go to my hometown minor league ballpark 60-plus times every summer. I arrive at least 30 minutes before game time and walk the concourse. I know most of the ushers and other game day staff, and it is interesting to hear what gossip is going around. And that is what it is — gossip — the ushers having no better insight than I.

I guess none of us has a seat in the boardroom … probably because the only boardroom that matters these days is at MLB HQ in Manhattan.

Mark Franke, an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review and its book reviewer, is formerly an associate vice-chancellor at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. Send comments to [email protected].

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