BOSTON---After the Kansas City game we turned in our rental car and flew from Kansas City to Boston. Final stop: Fenway Park, where from 1962 through 1966 I spent dozens of weekend afternoons. Fenway was in a gray, rundown industrial area. The concourse floor was cracked, uneven cement. But when I walked through a tunnel, oh my. It was like flying in a tornado from Kansas to Oz: The green field, traversed by hometown heroes in their white uniforms, was another, colorful world---but a world where baseball was king. Fans kept score, and kept track of other games via a scoreboard featuring numerals changed by hand.
The Fenway environs today are yuppified and Yawkey Way outside the stadium is a pre- and post-game fair with strolling minstrels and savory morsels. But inside the cement is still cracked and the baseball is serious. The electronic scoreboard between innings does not offer dot races, kiss-cams, and other distractions: It shows clips of Red Sox heroes from past eras, and after each play it teaches kids to keep score. Some stadium managers eat their seed corn by thinking the only way to attract young fans is to give them bells and whistles. Fenway wisely gives them baseball.
Later, Susan and I watched on television a Florida Marlins game at which management had passed out 15,000 plastic vuvuzelas modeled on those making a ruckus at the World Cup matches in South Africa. Susan, normally reserved, emailed this note to Marlins management:
"We were appalled at the noise coming from the stands. What a stupid idea for baseball. We just finished a weeklong baseball-watching tour in seven cities. Each game was unique. Each stadium reflected its community. But your PR team obviously doesn't understand baseball's inherent charm. Your poor judgment makes me wonder what other kinds of obnoxious bells and whistles you'll build into your new ballpark."
Matt Britten, the Marlins' director of marketing and promotion, courteously responded the next day. He wrote:
"While we had overwhelmingly positive feedback regarding the festive atmosphere at the game, I know that we had some upset fans as well. The last thing that we would ever want is a fan leaving the game with a negative experience and I can assure that we are taking everyone's feedback into consideration. Our intention was, as it always is, was to provide as much entertainment as we possibly could."
That last line is key. Great baseball is great entertainment. Fireworks when the home team hits a home run are fine---they are baseball-related. Celebrations after the game are fine. But if baseball wants to win a new generation, during the game it needs to train kids in the heritage and nuances of the sport, as Fenway tries to do. Come to think of it, the same principle applies concerning immigrants to America: Teach them what it means to be an American.