As the contentious negotiations between baseball’s owners and the MLB Players Association have broken down in recent weeks, three very simple words have served as an informal rallying cry for the latter group: when and where. “Tell us when and where!!” Mike Trout, the best player of his generation, exclaimed on Twitter on June 16, echoed by a slew of players throughout the league.
It may read like a capitulation to Rob Manfred and the owners’ immense financial might, but the implication is actually something altogether different. You tell us when and where to play. You impose your microscopic season, as is your right under the agreement constructed in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. And then, you explain to a judge, after we take you to court, why you reneged on your promise to play as many games as possible.
The reason I have opened by unpacking these three words is somewhere, in the midst of weeding through countless declarations of Major League Baseball’s imminent demise, I have come to the conclusion that I am probably stuck to baseball forever. When the players say “tell us when and where,” they say it with righteous – and rightful – defiance. When I say, “tell me when and where,” I say it with a sardonic resignation. Tell me when and where I need to be in front of my television. Just tell me when I need to be on my couch, and more likely than not I’ll be there.
Just tell me when and where I need to turn on MLB Network. It’ll be the same MLB Network, no doubt, I watched breathlessly in 2012 as Felix Hernandez threw his perfect game. And the MLB Network I glued myself to as the Indians tore through the American League in September of 2017, winning 22 games in a row. I know where my TV remote is. Just name a time and a place.
Tell me when and where I need to break out the Strat-O-Matic cards. The gang will all be there – Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa; Laynce Nix, Sean O’Sullivan, Brain Bogusevic and Jeff Keppinger. I’ve tried to get back into it, but it truly isn’t the same when I can’t watch a real game at the same time. But tell me when and where, and dice, heads and good times will inevitably roll.
Tell me when and where I should muster the archaic handheld radio I bought off Amazon into service. I plunked down $10 for it in late February after a binge of reading about the powers of AM radio, hoping that on a clear night on the shores of Lake Michigan, I could catch the voice of Tom Hamilton from 356 miles away on WTAM 1100, describing the feats of Lindor, Ramirez, Clevinger, Bieber and co. Just tell me when and where, and I’ll use any radio I can get my hands on – car, clock, Internet, portable, transistor, you name it – to inject the symphony of baseball into my veins.
Tell me when and where my local newspaper’s sports section will once again come alive with the baseball maniac’s bread and butter, the box score. I’ll sit at the kitchen table of my family home, or at the desk of my dormitory, and read about the feats of Mike Trout and Mookie Betts in the Toledo Blade or Chicago Tribune. I can do this with a newspaper, or on the Internet; I can compare today’s happenings with those of a hundred years ago or 10 years ago or yesterday. All you have to do is say the word, and I will once more find myself scouring the numbers that make the game at once mathematical and mystical.
Let me know when and where I need to be tweeting about games again. There is a hole in my heart that only the Indians blowing a three-run lead in the seventh can fill. I have not been offended by a specialist or a middle reliever in far too long, and if I cannot have the satisfaction of my bullpen collapsing, I long for the satisfaction of some other poor soul on my timeline’s bullpen collapsing. I miss the weirdness unique to baseball’s fans on Twitter. The rubbernecking at the comic futility of the position player pitching. The collective rush to MLB Network or ESPN when a game grows chaotic. The cries of “Coors” in MLB’s replies whenever a Rockies player lifts a finger. But you just tell me when and where, I’ll be back. I may even like your tweets consisting solely of the words “David Fletcher.”
Yes, whenever and wherever baseball decides to make its return – whether it’s this year, next year, the year after – I’ll be back. I’m hooked. Without it, I can’t get no satisfaction. I love every sport in the American repertoire – college football and hoops, the NBA, the NFL, the NHL, soccer, you name it – but ever since #OpeningDayatHome in late March, I have missed none with quite the grating intensity as I have missed baseball.
Does baseball miss you and me? It’s an open question, as we are subjected to the endless insistence of the men who run baseball that the fewer games in a hypothetical 2020 season, the better. Even if the owners and players successfully come to an agreement, there is still the small matter of the deadliest pandemic of most Americans’ lifetimes. And beyond that loom questions critical to the future of a changing sport – questions about the length of the draft, the contraction of Minor League Baseball, the marketing of baseball’s stars to younger audiences.
I can’t pretend I can answer these questions. I’m only one man and one fan. But I’ll be around to see them answered, for better or for worse. Because I have no choice. It’s in my blood, drawn from three generations of Indians fans, witnesses to pennants and World Series titles and 61-101 seasons alike. Only in baseball, and only in Cleveland, could a team start 14-1 one year (1966) and 1-14 three years later (1969) – and finish in no better than fifth place both seasons.
It is one of the many quirks that makes the game great. So tell me, Mr. Commissioner, even as you alienate your fans in ways of which Roger Goodell can only dream; tell me, Mr. Dolan, even as you drive a generational shortstop talent to greener pastures. Tell me when and where. And against my better judgment, like a hopeless romantic – how can you not be romantic about baseball? – I’ll be there.
Featured Photo: @Indians