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For Love Of The Gate: MLB Breaking Fan's Hearts and Wallets

tre wellsCorrespondent IApril 21, 2009

Billy Chapel (played by Kevin Costner) is a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers in 'For The Love Of The Game.' Photo credit: Ben Glass 1999 Universal Studios. All Rights Reserved.

Time has a way of stripping us of everything we love. It lures away our youth, diminishes our health, and steals our innocence. Sometimes, the latter of these is the hardest to take.

As Kevin Costner’s character Billy Chapel, of the Detroit Tigers, walked to the mound at Yankee Stadium during the ninth inning of the 1999 classic “For Love of the Gamem,” he stared at his baseball as if to ask for help.

Being 40 years of age and having played over 19 seasons, his youth was far from gone, his health was in question, and his innocence compromised.

But he stood on the doorstep of a perfect game. In the baseball world, this is as surreal a moment as standing on the doorstep of your first date.

As our stomach tightened and heartbeat quickened, we would sit on the edge of the seat with anticipation of his place in history as if it were leaning in for that first kiss. For a moment our innocence was back. From the 73-year-old grandfather sitting on the third base side, to the father of two in the upper deck, we all felt a lump in our throat.

Maybe that’s why we love baseball so much. For it is the only sport that seems as if it can turn back the clock, if only for a minute, to a timeless moment. It’s why children and adults alike can be mesmerized by the same thing, the same game.

Every game is a chapter to a story . And every chapter is an addition to a masterpiece of a novel that continues to be written over the years. The sport itself builds, molds, and creates the history in the stadiums that hold it’s games.

There is a reason the old Yankee Stadium was called “The House that Ruth Built."

Ruth’s history on the field, with the New York Yankees is what would eventually make the stadium what it became, a tradition. A child who sat in the stands and saw the first homer of Yankee Stadium hit by Babe Ruth had a story to tell for his entire life. A story that would be given to his child, and then to his child’s child.

The stadiums are only a wrapper to a present inside. Never should the wrapping paper be worth more than the gift.

But time has a way of stripping us of everything we love.

The price at the gate is far from what it once was. Nowadays stadiums have to be bigger and better than the one built two years ago in another city. They resemble more of a circus than they do a stadium. There has to be entertainment everywhere. So much to do, so much to see, that the game itself gets lost in the translation.

It’s becoming increasingly harder for middle income families to take their kids to see the next Ruth. Owners are putting more and more luxury boxes in every new stadium. In some stadiums they are taking out seats to put in more high dollar suites. Corporate sponsors bring more money to the owners than 12-year-old kids.

It’s becoming more about the experience the stadium gives you than the game itself. The problem is, someone has to pay for that. The New Yankee Stadium will cost close to $2 billion dollars. The tab for that will be picked up by the average fan, at the cost of baseball‘s most priceless asset—children.

An average family can no longer “go” to the games. They have to “plan a trip” to a game.

Ticket prices alone went up 11.9 percent from 2007 to 2008 across the league. According to teammarketing.com “the fan cost index (which) comprises the price of four average tickets, two small beers, four small sodas, four hot dogs, parking for one car, two game programs, and two adult-sized caps” at a Yankee’s game rose over $32 or almost 15 percent from ’07 to ’08. And that’s still sitting in the old stadium. It will be interesting to see the “fan cost index” for the first year in the new stadium.

Baseball, if it is not careful, may start pricing themselves out of a necessary group of fans—the generation of children going to the ballpark with their fathers built baseball into America’s past time. It’s what made millions of kids pick up a bat and swing for the fences. It’s a love that starts early and lasts a lifetime.

My prayer is that baseball stadiums slow down a bit. With every new super hi-tech toy one stadium adds to try and top another stadium, the ticket price increases. Allow children to come see you for the summer, not just a weekend. Plant and cultivate relationships with the younger fans and not corporate sponsors.

Baseball fans have been through a lot with MLB from the strikes to steroids. They’ve endured lies, cheating, and scandals still unfolding. But they have endured.

While sponsors have come and gone, the fans have always been there.

Corporate sponsors come to increase their revenue but leave when that stops. Baseball fans come because they actually love the game, and that has never stopped. Who do we want to trust our game with?

I hope I never see the day when a stadium is nothing but luxury boxes. I can picture it, and its something out of a sci-fi future movie that I would eventually classify as scary.

What makes Billy Chapel’s perfect game, in the movie, so surreal is him doing it on the road in Yankee Stadium, the “cathedral of baseball.“ The crowd was expectedly suffocating.

Chaos would get confused on that mound.

These moments are what make baseball so pure. Don’t take away these fans. Don’t sell out these moments.

And of all things, don’t ruin the game, "For Love of the Gate."

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