The summer of 1994 I had just finished my sophomore year in high school. I was already poised to make all kinds of adolescent transitions out of my childhood interests but the baseball strike hit at sort of the perfect time to really solidify things regarding baseball and baseball cards. I stopped collecting cold turkey. All my 1994 cards went into a box and stayed there for 25 years and I even gave up on collecting autographs.
I also stopped paying attention to major league baseball in general for a few years. The back half of high school has so many other things to pay attention to—both in-school and outside it—that I didn’t even miss it. I still wore a Giants cap all the time, but it was really more out of tradition than anything else.
I did however wear this tshirt. A lot. Sort of surprised I didn’t get in trouble for it* but it was a constant part of my wardrobe even through college. As much as I worked my way back into being a fan after the 1997 pennant race I never felt the same about MLB. I kept it at an arm’s reach, did not get caught up in the 1998 Home Run chase, and even drifted away again in the mid 2000s when the press focused only on Barry Bonds.**
*Also not surprised at all that in a landscape of Coed Naked and Big Johnson tshirts the teachers actually approved of this.
**Took one summer of headlines which only described what Bonds did and never bothered to mention who won the fucking game for me to check out completely.
Yes the 2002 World Series hurt. But it didn’t hurt like 1987 hurt. While I don’t miss being that kid in 1987 for whom baseball was the most important thing in the world, I’m sad about how I had to learn that detachment by having it ripped from me all a once. And I have to recognize that not only did I wear that shirt for over 6 years, I still have it and keep the photo on my phone as a reaction image. In other words, I still feel the wound.
Which makes the current lockout hurt doubly. Being able to experience baseball with my kids brought me closer to the game than I’d been in decades. Watching them get into it. Taking them to their first games. I’ve been aware of the impending work stoppage for years now; I even began warning them about it in 2019. But that doesn’t make it hurt any less.
MLB does everything it can to make games inaccessible for kids. Local blackouts make it impossible to watch anything if you don’t have cable TV. Games routinely start after bedtime and playoff games routinely end after midnight. Ticket prices make it impossible to go in person. No national radio broadcasts of playoffs. But despite this mine held in there and not only learned to love the game but displayed a maturity as fans which frequently caught me by surprise.
When the Giants traded Andrew McCutchen to the Yankees in 2018 my eldest immediately asked if anyone from Trenton was involved in the trade. They’ve been able to recognize how much fun teams like the White Sox and Rays are despite MLB’s best efforts to hype the Dodgers and Yankees. They decided they both wanted to be Giants fans even though 2018 and 2019 were pretty dire seasons. They can even sit through and keep score of an entire game.
It’s been a ton of fun to experience it all with them. 2019 was a great year of in-person baseball. 2020 was stolen from us. And 2021 was magic. Despite being stuck in New Jersey we all got to follow along to the best Giants season of my life.
And then as of yesterday my eldest is done. He’s not fully out. But he’s decided he’s not a baseball-first guy anymore. I can’t blame him. He was already one of the few baseball fans at his junior high and this is really the last straw. I fully understand the hurt he feels but as a parent it sucks. He’s hurt in the same way I was in 1994. And I’m hurt because just like that something we shared is gone. For good.
We’ll still go to college ball. Hopefully some Minor League ball as well. But a lot of the appeal there is in the promise. As much as baseball is baseball, there’s also something to the fact that these guys might make it to the show. I’m sure we’ll still have fun. But I also know we lost something that was special.
The youngest isn’t done yet. He’s back in Little League after a 2-year COVID hiatus* and has always liked the game a lot more anyway. But if the MLB powers have their say I fear his days as a fan are numbered too.
*That my eldest lost his last Little League seasons didn’t help his attachment to the game either.
Minor League Baseball has been our thing and that’s what MLB has been trying to ruin the most. I’m happy that I’ll be able to go to minor league ball this summer but I’m also going to feel really skeezy about it. MLB is locking out players because they want to cut payroll and maximize their profit. Me switching my baseball consumption to underpaid non-unionized players at such a moment is almost being complicit with MLB.
I also know that I won’t be buying myself, or them, any fan apparel while this is going on. Even though this is traditionally some of their favorite stuff to receive. Hopefully there will be some fun unlicensed stuff on Etsy to cushion things. And on the topic of licensing I have to have a serious think about whether I’m done with Topps cards as long as there’s a lockout. No licensed goods means no licensed goods and maybe this is the year to buy Donruss only.
This is a lot of change to deal with and I’ll explain it all to them. It’s a tough lesson to learn this young about not letting a company take you for granted as a consumer but if they can voluntarily give up palm oil they can handle anything.