If your bliss is to watch team sports played at the very highest level, pro ball is what you’ll follow. The pros are the best. They’ve played all their lives and have honed their skills to the nth degree. A George Brett homer or a late-game drive by John Elway have a beauty and a drama not to be matched by lesser mortals playing in the minors or in college ball. If your passion is excellence, mastery, grace and pure athleticism, then pro ball it’s gonna be.
But pro ball ultimately disappoints. There’s something vital missing in pro ball. Although team sports do fill a void in our lives, pro ball, as currently configured, can’t really fill that void — even if your team’s on top.
When perusing pro ball scores in The Kansas City Star, I find myself gratified to see the New York Yankees bestriding the pro ball world like a colossus. This is only as it should be; the Yanks are the best because the late Mr. Steinbrenner paid for the best.
But if all a pro ball franchise is doing is assembling the very best talent by paying top dollar for it, what’s the point? Then, whoever has the most money will quite likely have the best team. Where’s the honor in that?
Fans are expected to have loyalty to the so-called “home team,” i.e., the corporate team in their hometown. But the players and team owners have little loyalty to the fans. We see this when players, like LeBron James, and even whole teams leave a town for more lucrative contracts in other cities. Loyalty seems to be a one-way street, a case of love unrequited. In pro ball, the “tie that binds” is money.
Even those too “sophisticated” to feel loyalty for their country want to feel it for their “home team.” But a fan can’t feel genuine loyalty for his “home team” when it is made up of guys from all over, even guys from out of state. So it’s no surprise that Peyton Manning threw that pathetic interception in the Super Bowl; he was playing against his hometown; he had divided loyalties; he was conflicted, confused, off his game.
It’s utterly mystifying how American fans can summon up any loyalty to a “home team” whose star is from Croatia or, heaven help us, Red China. What special relationship would such players have with Americans?
The way to reconfigure pro ball to infuse fans with a genuine loyalty for pro ball teams is this: Require that players have a long-standing connection to the town whose pro ball team they play on. It would be best that players were not only raised in the area, but were born there as well.
And where would it put the vaunted Yankees if they had to consist solely of native New Yorkers, born and bred?
Well, Mariano Rivera couldn’t be a Yank. And the Cubans, Dominicans, Mexicans, Japanese, Chinese, etc. who come to America just to play pro ball would also be ineligible. (If they need work, we have crops to pick.) Mickey Mantle? Mickey was a Sooner, so he couldn’t play for New York, either; he’d have to play for some team in Oklahoma, which currently doesn’t have a pro baseball team. But under the new system, Oklahoma might well become a pro ball powerhouse. Indeed, since they couldn’t be drafted by big cities, it would be possible for a bunch of talented farm boys to win the World Series for Smalltown, U.S.A.
Jon N. Hall is a programmer/analyst from Kansas City.