It's that most sacred time of year for baseball fans: a few brown leaves on the front lawn, sunset at suppertime, and ball games where every pitch carries the potential for hope or heartbreak. This Saturday, the American and National league champions will be introduced in Chicago and Game 1 of the World Series will begin. Which means, of course, it's time for my appeal 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 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 things stand, baseball has fallen behind NASCAR and way behind the National Football League in the collective heart and soul of the American sports spectator. And a primary factor in the game's decline -- steroids aside -- is that kids no longer attach themselves to baseball's champions. In the Eastern U.S., World Series games end long after the average 10-year-old is drooling on his pillow. A game-winning rally in the ninth inning? Tune in to SportsCenter at breakfast and try to cheer. National Baseball Day would force the television networks and their advertising fat cats to return one game to the kids who, despite what Budweiser might tell you, remain the lifeblood of our national pastime.
Not a baseball fan, you say? Couldn't give a flip who's playing in Game 4, let alone who wins? No worries. 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 its appreciation for taking a breath now and then, for watching the sunset instead of hearing about it, for tuning in to a baseball game to gently supplemement 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.
Granted, baseball has its troubles. Economic disparities have shoved terrific franchises like the Kansas City Royals, Pittsburgh Pirates, 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 baseball can connect one generation to the next in ways most other enterprises can't. (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" for all us grown-ups and our dollar-squeezing priorities. No better way to sacrifice than with a holiday, when we can all act like kids for a day.