First Pitch: Stripping the Fun Out of MLB For Years

When I think of the loudest baseball games I’ve ever attended, two immediately come to mind.

The first was the 2013 NL Wild Card game.

The second? Some random intrasquad game at the Pirates’ Dominican academy.

The first game was obviously loud because of the fans and the moment. The second one was loud because of the chatter on the field.

After every pitch, almost every player would shout out encouragement to the pitcher, or taunts to the batter. The dugouts were loud. When a run was scored, the dugout would come out and meet the player in celebration as he returned from touching the plate. When an inning was completed, the players on the bench would rush out and celebrate with their returning teammates from the field.

For a comparison in the United States, look no further than college baseball, where similar energy can be found. Although, college baseball chatter and celebrations are tame compared to what I’ve seen in the Dominican Republic.

When I returned to Bradenton that summer, I asked a few Dominican academy alums why it’s not the same in the US, even in the GCL where the conditions are identical.

The paraphrased responses were similar: “We’re told to be professionals. We need to act like men. We have a job to do, and we need to take it seriously.”

There was a lot of criticism of Kyle Stark’s military-style tactics in the minor leagues. Some were overblown training sessions. Some were ridiculous dress codes and facial hair policies, as if playing on the Altoona Curve was akin to playing for the New York Yankees. This was yet another one of them.

This one wasn’t limited to Stark, and it wasn’t limited to the Pirates. You see it all around the league. You saw it with Fernando Tatis Jr. breaking unwritten rules. It’s seen every time someone celebrates just a bit too much, and gets a 95 MPH fastball thrown at him in the next at-bat as punishment.

Major League Baseball has done a great job of removing all of the fun out of the game of baseball.

And it is just a game. It’s entertainment. It’s supposed to provide an escape for the fans.

It’s not meant to be a bunch of stoic millionaires punching the time clock and putting their nose to the ground for nine innings. We all do that in our regular jobs. Why do we want to see that from our entertainment sources?

This is a Major League Baseball problem. You see celebrations in the NCAA. I’ve seen even more lively games in the Dominican. I’ve heard that the loudest game you’ll ever experience comes in the Dominican Winter League playoffs.

The irony for the Pirates is that one of the best MLB teams they’ve fielded in recent years was known for dancing in the dugout before the game.

There can be on-field benefits when you don’t treat this game like work.

Who cares about the on-field benefits though? The game is more enjoyable to watch from the perspective of a spectator, and that’s the only thing that matters. Major League Baseball folds without the audience.

My hope is that the younger players like Tatis Jr. fight back against the unwritten rules, and the idea that this is a serious job where you can’t have any fun. Because we’re taking a great game from the college and Dominican ranks, and slowly lobotomizing it as players get closer to the majors.

First Pitch