FROM MY SEAT: Do the Rite Thing 

Just once every year let's pay homage to the one and only national pastime.

It’s that most sacred time of year for baseball fans. A few brown leaves on the front lawn, sunset at supper time, and ball games where every pitch carries with it the feuding potential of hope and heartbreak. This Saturday, the American and National league champions will be introduced in Chicago and Game 1 of the World Series will open the once-and-forever greatest of American sports spectacles. Which means, of course, it’s time for my appeal to the powers-that-be and all decent thinkers for this country’s first and only holiday devoted to sports: National Baseball Day.

Here’s my proposal. On the Wednesday of World Series week -- when Game 4 is typically played -- government offices, schools, and any other operation without at least two televisions to show the game will shut down. Those businesses remaining open will be obligated to grant excused absences to moms and dads electing to stay home with their children. Best of all, on National Baseball Day, the World Series will be played under sunshine, the way it was when Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, and Willie Mays were the heroes. First pitch at 3 p.m. eastern time, noon on the west coast.

Before you scoff, consider how desperately such a day is needed (as much by the game of baseball as by those who would be watching). As things stand, baseball has fallen behind NASCAR and way behind the National Football League (some would argue behind the NBA even) in the collective heart and soul of the American spectator. And a primary factor in the game’s decline -- steroids aside -- is that kids no longer attach themselves to baseball’s champions. Particularly on the densely populated east coast, World Series games end long after your average 10-year-old is drooling on his pillow. A game-winning rally in the ninth inning? Tune into SportsCenter at breakfast and try to cheer. National Baseball Day would force the television networks and their advertising fat cats to return one game -- ONE game -- to the kids who, despite what Budweiser might tell you, remain the lifeblood of our national pastime. (And consider the countless elderly fans. How many octogenarians do you think were awake when Boston reversed its 86-year-old curse near midnight last October 27th?)

Not a baseball fan, you say? Couldn’t give a flip who’s playing in Game 4, let alone who wins? No worries. Take National Baseball Day and do something to make you smile, whether it’s seeing a movie you’ve been meaning to squeeze in or, better, visiting a park or museum with someone you love. (Just make sure the museum is open. Curators are fans, too.) The idea is to have a day -- falling conveniently within the holiday drought between Labor Day and Thanksgiving -- when Americans can embrace something we’ve come to specialize in: leisure. There are enough deadlines to make, deals to close, book reports to write, and chores to finish. Among the seminal beauties of this still-young country is an appreciation for taking a breath now and then, for watching the sunset instead of hearing about it, for turning a baseball game on to gently supplement the silences of an off day. So do what you’d like on National Baseball Day . . . just remember it was baseball that got you there.

My rose-colored lenses have been shelved. Baseball has its troubles. Looking back on 2005, Rafael Palmeiro may turn out to be a bastardized “player of the year” instead of Alex Rodriguez or Albert Pujols. Economic disparities have shoved terrific franchises like the Kansas City Royals and Detroit Tigers to the competitive fringe. And next year, like it or not, one of the game’s all-time sourpusses -- Barry Bonds -- will reclaim center stage as he marches toward Hank Aaron’s home run standard.

But it’s still baseball. And it can connect one generation to the next unlike many enterprises known to man. (When you hear a grandfather describing the sublime play of Bob Pettit to his grandson wearing a Pau Gasol jersey at FedExForum, give me a shout.) This has to start with children, though, with some “sacrifice” among all us grown-ups and our dollar-squeezing priorities. No better way to sacrifice than with a holiday, when (wink) we can ALL act like kids for a day. I’ve written my congressman about National Baseball Day. When will you?

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