The Change That Made Me Fall Back In Love With Baseball

How a major league fan living in a town without a team fell back in love with baseball.
Illustration by John Jay Cabuay

As a kid, baseball was my first love.

I collected baseball cards, played flip (a game in which players toss a ball around a circle using only their gloved hands) for hours on end, mastered a cards-and-dice game called Strat-O-Matic Baseball, and kept copious statistics on every player. When it was time to break in a new glove, I did the whole routine with leather oil, a baseball, and string. Then, I stuck it under my pillow at night. I could mimic the windup of just about every major league pitcher, which established me as something of a massive dork on the playground.

I still remember my first in-person game—the Mets at Shea Stadium— and the feeling that came over me when I walked through the tunnel and saw the most beautiful sight my 7-year-old mind could ever conceive: the greensward spread out before me, perfectly manicured, not a blade of grass out of place. The infield dirt was pristine, and the white lines stretched into infinity. It was a miracle to behold. (Only later in my career did I realize that Shea was a complete dump, a cookie-cutter stadium bereft of charm or amenities.)

For the longest time, baseball was central to my existence. As a kid growing up in New York, there were the beloved Mets and the hated Yankees. We went to games. We watched games on TV. It was appointment viewing. We moved to the Chicago area my junior year of high school, and I became consumed with the Cubs and the White Sox (mostly the Cubs). Then, as a professional sports scribe, I worked in New Jersey (Mets and Yankees again), San Diego (Padres), Pittsburgh (Pirates), Cleveland (Indians, now Guardians), and Denver (the Rockies came along in 1993 as an expansion franchise; in fact, you can get my book on that expansion season, Mile High Madness, on Amazon for about $1.55). Baseball was a central part of the rhythm of summer. Beyond that, it gave me something to cover, something to write about, during the summer months.

And then, around 2000, I fell out of love with the game. It wasn’t a single moment, like some kind of harsh breakup. It was a slow process. Yeah, I’d watch the postseason, but during the summer, it was background noise at best. I could still name the starting lineup of the 1969 Miracle Mets—go ahead, try me—but I couldn’t name three current players on any team, including the Mets.

It just got too freaking slow, which became increasingly inescapable during the time I was covering sports in Denver from 1990 to 2000, when every game lasted four high-scoring hours or more because of the altitude (this was pre-humidor).

When I arrived in Indianapolis the summer of 2000, I continued to enjoy going to games—mostly for the beer and occasional fireworks—but without a local major league team to follow on a daily basis, my attention was diverted. I remember watching a postseason series around 2000 or 2001 and realizing I didn’t know a single one of the players. At that point, I knew I was not the same kid who used to “amuse” his classmates with his Tom Seaver and Mike Kekich schoolyard windups.

My attitude and disinterest distanced me from the game for more than two decades, but that all changed this year. It’s a whole new ballgame. I’ve fallen back in love with baseball.

This doesn’t mean I’ll watch all 162 Mets games this coming season. Given the woeful state of the team, that’s a painful proposition. But when a game is on, I plan to watch from start to finish. Especially in the postseason. Paying attention to the postseason was how I started slowly dipping a toe back in the water. But something happened last regular season: I found myself checking the TV listings to see if there were any compelling matchups coming on. I started watching games from the first pitch to the last. I was mesmerized again, just the way I was as a kid.

Recent rule changes have made the game much faster and more palatable. There are still things that drive me crazy, like both Texas and Houston pulling their starters in the middle innings during the playoffs while both pitching shutouts. Remember complete games? But matches are moving at a much better pace. Shoot, even stolen bases have made a reappearance. Bunts? OK, let’s not get crazy, but you get the idea. Yes, I know, the Arizona Diamondbacks bunted a few times in the World Series, but it’s a rare occurrence in this day and age of the strikeout and the three-run homer. Small ball, once all the rage, isn’t completely dead, but it’s on life support.

Baseball, which has gone from the “national pastime” to an afterthought when compared to the NFL and the NBA, fixed itself prior to the 2023 season, and America took notice. According to, 17 teams exceeded 2.5 million in attendance, and eight surpassed 3 million in 2023. It was the highest-attended season since 2017 and a 9.6-percent increase over the previous year.

With the rule changes, the game now has a flow to it.

Photography by Ryan Lane/Indianapolis Indians

The pitch clock, which mandates that pitchers take no longer than 15 seconds to throw—or 20 seconds to throw with a man on base—has changed everything. Batters have to be in the box and ready to hit in eight seconds. In 2021, when pitchers were futzing around between each pitch and batters were adjusting their helmets, their batting gloves, their cups, and just about everything else you can think of—remember Mike Hargrove, nicknamed The Human Rain Delay?—games lasted an average of three hours and 10 minutes. Baseball lovers enjoy talking about how the beauty of the game lies in its timelessness, but it was getting absurd. In an age of diminishing attention spans, three-plus hours of baseball, not exactly an action-packed sport to start, was a bridge too far.

In 2023, the pitch clock reduced the average game time to just two hours and 39 minutes, a 24-minute decline from the previous year. According to Forbes, only nine games lasted 3.5 hours or longer. In 2021, there were a whopping 390 marathon games of 3.5 hours or longer. The 2023 average is the shortest it’s been since the 1985 season, when the average was two hours and 40 minutes.

Thank goodness. Baseball has been a special game for more than 100 years, but sports need to be tweaked as the circumstances require. The new digital guardrails are needed. Yet, the game’s timeless element—part of its romance—remains. I’ll let Howard Kellman, the longtime voice of the Indianapolis Indians and the biggest baseball fan I know, explain it as he did to about 50 Rotarians at the Bridgewater Club earlier this year:

“Baseball is the only sport where the defense has the ball. All the other sports, the defense reacts to the offense. But in baseball, the hitter reacts to the defense and the pitcher. That’s why it’s so unpredictable. You can have a bad ball club, but if you get a well-pitched game, you can win that given day. All other sports are governed by a time clock. You can be trailing by five, six runs and then have a rally, and it’s like you defeat time. Time stops. It’s 27 outs, and that’s what makes this game so special.”

Now, I’d be lying if I said I’m a regular at Indianapolis Indians games. I go now and then, mostly for the beer and, on occasion, the fireworks. I root for the Indians but can’t name a single player, despite the fact that some rising stars have come through this city and organization. I’ve been in Indy for 23 years, and not once has a reader ever said, “Bob, you really need to write about the Indians.” Except for a very small hardcore group of baseball fans, locals seem to view game attendance as more like a trip to the zoo or a walk in a leafy park. No one goes to the nearest sports bar and engages in debates over whether the Indians’ middle relief is strong enough to win the division.

Photography by Adam Pintar/Indianapolis Indians

Professional baseball, though, including the minor league, has made some improvements, and not just with the pitch clock. For starters, the bases are now bigger, enhanced from 15 square inches to 18. This helps decrease the number of collisions on the basepaths and increase the success rate on stolen bases, which became something of a lost art in the age of the walk, the strikeout, and the three-run homer.

The defensive shift is gone. Now, there must be two defensive players on each side of second base. In 2022, the league batting average was .243. A year later, it was .248. My guess is that number will continue to increase over time.

A pitcher can now only attempt to pick off a baserunner—or disengage from the rubber—twice during an at-bat. After a third disengagement, the pitcher will be charged with a balk. And after years of watching a chorus line of relief pitchers parade to the mound batter after batter, the league has mandated that a relief pitcher must face at least three batters, unless it’s the end of an inning. That’s moved the game along significantly. Who wants to spend half their life waiting for a new reliever to warm up?

Back in the day, it was all about putting the ball in play, moving runners over, and manufacturing runs. That has changed in this all-or-nothing era.

There have been other, less obvious rules changes and tweaks, but in the end, what they add up to is a baseball game that takes less time out of your life and creates more action on the field.

I have a buddy who is a huge, lifelong baseball fan. One day, I was watching his beloved Padres and texted him a comment about the game. He was shocked. “You’re watching baseball? Since when?”

This rekindled love of baseball doesn’t necessarily make me popular around the house, where my wife would much rather watch HGTV or Netflix, but on those occasions when I can commandeer the remote, baseball it is. On a casual summer night, there’s nothing I like better than curling up with a good Major League Baseball game. There’s something undeniably soothing about it, but it’s not a snooze fest anymore. I’ve fallen back in love with the game.

Play ball. I’ll be watching.