By Bob Houghtaling

Many years ago, Opening Day for the Major League Baseball season was a big deal. Millions of fans, who had hibernated from their beloved sport over the winter months, not only awaited the season’s first pitch, but a review of the box scores displayed in the daily paper.

While America’s game is still loved by many, it is no longer revered as it was in the past.

Deemed “too slow,” “too long,” and reduced to Home Run Derby, baseball is in need of some positive P.R….

So, here goes.

Let’s begin by stating that baseball is slow – or at least slower than many other sports. In addition, the running, pitching, fielding and hitting during a game, actually takes up only a small percentage of each contest. With all of this said, there is still a lot going on. Strategy, positioning, head games, tension and out-of-nowhere split-decision thinking, are happening all of the time. On top of these, for the fans, there are opportunities to question calls, second-guess umpires and tell stories to those around you about games and players past. In many ways, “slowness” is an advantage.

As kids, pick-up baseball games were a part of growing up for me and many of my peers. We would pretend to bat like one of our Major League heroes. We would invent rules (for example, closing right field) or keep statistics about our exploits. In addition, we socialized. We laughed, argued, compromised and learned to adjust. Sometimes the left-handed kid played second base. Other times one of us patrolled the outfield with a catcher’s mitt or first baseman’s glove.

The kids made the rules – and somehow, in the vast majority of cases, it was fun. That seems so long ago. Few kids play pick-up baseball anymore.

At a time when many decry life’s pace. At a time when many parents, teachers and

counselors are concerned about how this helps cause stress among young people. And at a time when we teach kids to “hurry up and slow down so that they can slow down and hurry up,” it’s a shame that slow is not as appealing as fast and more of. Techniques are now taught so that kids can be mindful while they seek to handle additional “mores.” Who would have thought (years ago) that sitting at a ballgame with family on a bright summer day (woofing down a cold drink and hot dog) would be considered boring? We often speak of how folk(s) don’t communicate with each other anymore. We also speak of how there is so little time these days.

Has baseball become an anachronism? Aside from the game itself (which does need to make a few changes) it appears as though we think slow has to go.

Baseball and its variations (softball and wiffle ball) can be played at many levels. For certain, those who play high school, college and pro baseball understand the amount of time and skill that goes into competing at those levels. It has often been said that hitting a baseball is one of the most difficult things to do in sports. However, many people enjoy playing catch or hitting a softball around during a family cookout gathering. Baseball invites people to participate.

The late, great comedian George Carlin once performed an insightful skit where he

contrasted baseball with football. He stated that baseball was played in a park, by people wearing caps with the intent to be safe. Football was played on a gridiron, by folks wearing helmets intent on penetrating the enemy’s weaknesses. For certain we can argue which sport is better, etc., – but in the end both have a place. My fear is that we are getting too busy to play “extra innings.”

Rhode Island has a long history with the game of baseball. Way back, Napoleon Lajoie was considered a rival of the great Ty Cobb. A bit later, Babe Ruth would play for the Providence Gray’s. For anyone who has seen the movie A League of Their Own, it is important to note that Wilma Briggs (from East Greenwich) was once a star left fielder in the All-American girl’s professional baseball league. Davey Lopes (who grew up in Providence) starred for the Los Angeles Dodgers for more than a decade as (mostly) a second baseman. And today, Rocco Baldelli (from Woonsocket), once a star outfielder, is the manager of the Minnesota Twins. These are just a sampling of a rich history.

So, if you are looking to slow down a bit why not visit McCoy Stadium this summer? If you are lucky enough to get a ticket why not try a national treasure in Fenway Park? Sure, times and things change, but as they do finding ways to relax, chat and revel in an ancient game just might prove to be an elixir for what ails. Hope to see you soon.

Bob Houghtaling is the director of the East Greenwich Drug Program.