Game Changer

Don Southworth

I FELL IN LOVE with baseball in 1965. My parents were in the midst of divorcing. I found sanctuary listening to San Francisco Giants’ games on the radio. I put on my batting helmet and pretended I was Willie Mays swinging at every pitch or diving on my bed catching imaginary lines drives. Willie had a magical year and, although the hated Dodgers nosed us out in the end, a lifelong passion was born.

I preached on miracles when I applied for fellowship as a minister. Jesus’ acts were nowhere to be found in baseball. Still, the story of the 1969 “miracle” New York Mets—and this 11-year-old’s awe—were central to my message. Baseball was an annual sermon then because, for fans like me, it is a magical, mystical game that has meaning far beyond runs, errors and base hits. The 1989 film Field of Dreams, a story about fathers, sons, baseball heroes and ghosts coming out of a cornfield in Iowa, highlighted the spirituality of the game.

Major League Baseball recently played its first game at the Iowa cornfield where the movie was made. The Yankees and White Sox entered the field through the corn and played before an intimate crowd of 8,000. Millions more watched on television. It was the highest-rated regular season game in years. The game ended dramatically when Tim Anderson of the White Sox hit a walk-off home run into the cornfield to win the game.

Ironically, Anderson has never seen Field of Dreams. He was born after the movie was made. Like many young ballplayers, especially those of color, the storyline of old-time white baseball players coming back to life doesn’t really resonate.

Baseball has become too slow and too boring for more and more people. It’s become an old man’s game. Players like Anderson and others are bringing a new swagger and excitement to baseball. Bat flips, trash talking and strutting after home runs are becoming more popular. Perhaps this new way of playing will bring more people back to baseball and especially those much younger than me.

As I watch these changes, I fight the curmudgeon in me who misses the old days. It reminds me of those in the financial world who complain about the “gamification” of investing and the changes that come with it. Bitcoin, Robinhood, short-selling and margin calls for average investors? To some, it’s blasphemy.

But the only constant in baseball, investing and life is change. How well we cope with it has a lot to do with our ability to adapt and succeed. IRAs and 401(k)s weren’t around 50 years ago, and neither were video replays nor launch angles. We have survived. So I’m struggling to understand WAR in baseball and ESG in investing. But don’t ever expect me to accept the designated hitter.

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