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Mudville: April 18, 2024 11:14 am PDT

Go The Distance


COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – This lovely village in upstate New York is one of baseball’s sacred places.

To baseball’s credit, for the last two years now the Field of Dreams Game in Dyersville, Iowa has joined the Sacred List – becoming a hit – a lined double in the gap.

Why is that?

It sounds so simple but the simple things mean a lot in baseball. It’s what I call Basic Baseball.

We love it and so do fans, but baseball continues to move away from basic baseball in an effort to create a more robotic game with more numbers, more stats and less humanity, not much of the human element as in the past. There are so many lessons to be learned here but MLB and the Nerds in charge are so arrogant they won’t learn a thing.

First things first, they must learn: Go The Distance.

Fans simply want players to play hard and do it right.

The most disappointing player in the Major Leagues continues to be the Entitled One, Fernando Tatis, Jr. of the Padres. The shortstop hurt his team by being in a motorcycle accident before the season that has kept him sidelined – and now he has been suspended for 80 games because he tested positive for a performance-enhancing substance. This 2022 season is done for Tatis, Jr.

Maybe the Padres too, despite landing Juan Soto in a trade.

Fernando Tatis Jr. #23 of the San Diego Padres talks with Josh Bell #24 during a baseball game against the Colorado Rockies August 4, 2022 at Petco Park in San Diego, California. (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)

There is that word again, kid. Baseball, when played right, makes you feel like a kid again. Baseball is its own Time Machine.

Once again Tatis, Jr. has failed his teammates and pitcher Mike Clevinger said it best, telling reporters: “You hope he grows up and learns from this and learns that it’s about more than just him now.’’

Tatis Jr. is 23. Beyond time to grow up.

Baseball is a gift and the MLB players in Iowa appreciated that gift because it was done in simple terms, a cornfield, just as Hall of Famers love coming to Cooperstown. Tatis, Jr. could learn a little humility as well.

Cubs starter Drew Smyly said it best with these words after the Cubs 4-2 win over the Reds Thursday night. “You just feel like a kid again,’’ Smyly said, wearing a first-to-third grin on his face. “You are just out there playing baseball.’’

Imagine that. Just playing baseball. Keeping it simple.

You are just out there playing baseball. You feel like a kid again. And so do the fans watching.

It reminds us of all that was once good.

There is that wonderful feel of the baseball in your hand, the smell of the grass, it’s all so simple yet all so special. And to me it all started Thursday with a wonderful rendition of the National Anthem by Jessie James Decker.

The players were lined up in their vintage Cubs and Reds uniforms on the field as tall and straight as the lines of corn beyond the outfield wall. No one kneeled. Respect was shown for the Flag that was flying so proudly in the breeze. The fans roared. The National Anthem was an event again. It was a moment of pride and that is the way it should be every game. The simple act of having the players lined up straight and proud on the field set a tone of appreciation for the evening.

Jessie James Decker sings the national anthem prior to the game between the Chicago Cubs and the Cincinnati Reds at The MLB Field at Field of Dreams on Thursday, August 11, 2022 in Dyersville, Iowa. (Photo by Mary DeCicco/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

You see, when baseball is played right, we all appreciate the game. The fans certainly appreciated being there. The local towns lined up to celebrate when team buses came down the road. The players appreciated not only being in the game and all the little things, like coming out of the cornfield just like in the movie Field of Dreams, but you can tell that for one night, they appreciated holding that lucky lottery ticket that got them to the Major Leagues.

Sure the talent is off the charts, but there is luck and opportunity involved and this is not just America’s Game that it was back in Shoeless Joe Jackson’s day, this is the world’s game.

Cubs catcher Willson Contreras noted, “I’ve come a long way. From Venezuela to here, all the way to Field of Dreams. The first time that I watched the movie, I was back in Venezuela. I was a kid. And now that I’m here I feel proud of myself. I’m really thankful for everything that I’ve done with the Cubs and in baseball… A memory like this can last forever.’’

There is that word again, kid. Baseball, when played right, makes you feel like a kid again. Baseball is its own Time Machine.

This game was an event. The play was fairly crisp with a first-inning double into the gap by the Cubs’ Seiya Suzuki. This event brings the game back to its roots. It’s not just another game. It’s a simpler time, an intimate crowd where people are interested in seeing their baseball heroes close up, watching them play the game the way it should be played with hustle and attention to detail you don’t see during the regular season.

Baseball has the magic formula right in front of them for success but MLB and the Nerds in charge don’t want to see it. They don’t want you to see it either.

They want you to recite Statcast data instead of talking about real play and real players data.

Thankfully, there was no Statcast at the Field of Dreams Game.

A general view of the scoreboard before the game between the Chicago Cubs and the Cincinnati Reds at The MLB Field at Field of Dreams on Thursday, August 11, 2022 in Dyersville, Iowa. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Even though it was the Reds vs. Cubs, it was the game that was important. The game was center stage and give the players credit, they played it to the best of their abilities, they gave it their all in this setting. That is what baseball used to be through the decades when it was the most successful game in America.

They don’t want you to see what is wrong with the game now. They want you blinded by the light. They want to make you think it is launch angle, spin rate, exit velo, 100 mph fastballs, all the shiny gadgets they throw at you, that are important.

All those things are just part of the game, it is the game that matters.

The answer is right in front of our eyes but baseball does not want you to figure it out, they want you to pay for it in so many different ways, including Field of Dreams shirts and caps, but they don’t want you to figure out the little secret that we love The Game for the game, not the launch angle and all the other BS.

That’s why the Nerds have created a specialized language that if you are not in their club, you will not understand, even though this is just a rebranding of the terms you grew up with in the game.

That’s why legions of baseball people have been replaced, they know what’s going on and are not afraid to speak out about it so instead they hire managers, for the most part, and front office people who are now experts at looking the other way when major and minor mistakes are made. A cell phone flies out of a pocket of a player during the game, “Oh he is just a 23-year-old kid.’’

Another popup is misplayed, “Oh, the sky was tough today.’’

The list goes on and on, throws to the wrong base, making the out at third base to end the inning, striking out again even though the winning run is at second with no outs late in the game and they want you to look the other way when someone from nowhere comes out of the dugout and plants themselves on second base.

What? How the heck did that runner get there? Manfred put him there? How did that happen?

“Daddy, I thought you said you had to earn your way on base.’’

“You do son, that is until extra innings, the most important time of the game. Then you just get a Fake Runner.’’

“But he didn’t deserve to be on second base, Daddy.’’

From out of nowhere, the Manfred Man appears on 2nd base when the clock strikes 10th inning… ooooohhh

Why don’t they raise the bar? If a game goes extra innings, you have to earn your runners on base. If the defense imposes a ridiculous shift and your hitter is batting .189 why not take what the defense gives you? Why not bunt a runner to third with less than two outs? Why not teach your pitcher fastball command first and then work on all the other stuff. Command a couple of pitchers instead of throwing four different pitches, none of them you can command.

If you are a left-handed hitter and the righty is throwing that nasty cutter, why not make an adjustment in the box and back off from the plate a bit so you can hit that pitch? Why not take infield and outfield practice before games so you can improve on that aspect of the game instead of thinking playing good defense is simply taking a cheat card out of your back pocket or cap and moving like a robot where the 2 o’clock Nerd is telling you to play?

The fans used to love when they could watch infield and BP before a game. Now it’s “the players need their rest, their pregame food and their iPad time and we have so many coaches and interns, they have to have time with the players.’

Especially the pitch-strategists, they need time with the pitchers.

Or as a good friend told BallNine, and this guy used to be a pitcher, “Why are you listening to someone who never pitched in the majors on what pitches to throw and when to throw them?’’

You are too worried about shaping a pitch instead of firing a nasty, nasty 97-mph fastball past the hitter, instead you give him your fourth-best pitch, a changeup that is promptly hit out of the ballpark or the slider that doesn’t slide, the most popular pitch in baseball today.

They don’t want you to realize it is the game of baseball you love and that is what you want to see played on a nightly basis, not some goofy science experiment with seven-year rebuilding plans so people who know little about the game can pat themselves on the back and climb up the Assistant to the Assistant GM ladder.

These are all fair questions. The answers are right in front of you.

Mr. Baseball Executive, build a team that plays hard and smart and knows the fundamentals and the players play like they are all kids again… and plays fair. Build that team and they will come.

Build that team at every ballpark and you will not have to travel to a cornfield in Iowa.

Go The Distance.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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