TOLEDO, Ohio — Some months ago, you might recall, I wrote how much I hate the idea of a clock in baseball. Well, here is what I wrote.
Baseball — it’s an escape from clocks. Baseball is a vacation from clocks. In baseball, there is none of that time anxiety, none of the feeling that every second matters, none of that clock-watching. There’s a certain tranquility, a certain calm in the rhythms of baseball. I don’t want some stupid clock ticking behind a pitcher, people in the stands counting down, pitchers throwing at the last possible second. Baseball is at its best when you can melt into the game. Sure it’s a cliche, but when just right baseball does feel timeless. Who brings a timepiece to a timeless game?
Thursday, I was in Toledo to do a story on minor league home run champion Mike Hessman, and I watched my first baseball game with a clock. And I’ll just say it right out because there’s no point in playing games here: I was 100% wrong. I was so totally, ridiculously and absurdly wrong that, frankly, I want to write an angry email in response to myself. It is hardly the first time I was this wrong. It won’t be the last.
It turned out that the digital clock — which rolled somewhat unnoticed behind the batter — was absolutely fantastic. It did not distract from the game the way I had thought it might. Instead, it kept the game flowing. It kept the action rolling. After years of watching baseball players stretch out the game the way George stretched out James Spader’s sweater on Seinfeld, this was mind-blowing. The pitcher pitched. The hitter swung. The fielder caught. The pitcher pitched again. The game propelled itself. Yes, There was still the nice relaxed pace of baseball that I worried might be lost, but within that easy pace was a steady drumbeat of action. It was, I must admit, glorious.
And here’s what made it even better: My daughters were at the game. They are 13 and 10 and have shown very limited interest in baseball. Well, Katie, the 10-year-old, has shown limited interest. Elizabeth, our oldest, had shown exactly zero interest at all. The game bored her silly. She would — this is absolutely true — bring a book along to games, and she would read straight through, only occasionally looking up when there was a particularly loud cheer.
But this game, Elizabeth was enthralled. I kept waiting for her to say she wanted to leave — that usually starts the third inning. Instead, after every inning she said, “Can we stay?” She opened up a book and then immediately closed it. The game was a story; the drama built up. We still talked about nonsense (we learned, for instance, that Tigers prospect Dixon Machado is nicknamed Skippy, likes playing Call of Duty but loves doing laundry — we discussed this at length). But the focus was the game.
When it ended, Elizabeth said, “I like minor league baseball a lot more than major league baseball.” Sure, some of it was the kitsch, the smallness, the weather. It was a perfect night for baseball. But I’m pretty sure that some of it was that clock. It felt, for me, a little bit like going back in time, to my own childhood, when the game moved. There was no clock then. There was no need. But this is a different time.