Sad, not shocked: MLB fans take guts from canceled games

PHOENIX (AP) — Nathan Rueckert’s personal finances are loosely tied to Major League Baseball, thanks to the nearly 20 years he spent building his company that produces handcrafted fan art.

That’s not why Tuesday was a very bad day.

Deep down, Rueckert just loves baseball. And like most baseball fans, he reacted with a mixture of resignation, dismay, sadness and anger when MLB commissioner Rob Manfred announced that Opening Day on March 31 had been canceled. because the union and players’ management were unable to reach a working agreement in time to end a 90-day lockdown.

“I just think about all the father-son moments that we’re going to miss,” said Rueckert, who operates Baseball Seams Co. from his home in South Dakota. “All of these opportunities that are being robbed by a season that maybe doesn’t even exist. Especially with the state of the country and the world, baseball is such a big distraction.

“People want to go to the ballpark, have a hot dog and get rid of the stress.”

For fans, MLB’s decision to cancel games only adds to their stress. And anger. Or, perhaps most concerning, apathy.

It’s the latest setback for a sport that has had arguably the worst luck of America’s biggest sports leagues — which includes the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB — when it comes to COVID-19. The pandemic began in mid-March 2020, immediately halting spring training less than three weeks before opening day and causing the season to be shortened by over 100 games.

No other league has lost more of its schedule.

There was not much to do against a pandemic. Union wrangling over how to allocate money in a $10 billion industry is another story. Now, for the second time in three seasons, at least some regular season games will not be played.

There are no heroes in this lockdown story, but much of the social media vitriol has been directed at Manfred, who has been commissioner since 2015. He was spotted practicing his golf swing between sessions negotiation by an Associated Press photographer on Tuesday. Others were upset that Manfred was laughing and jovial with reporters during his press conference announcing the cancellation.

It’s safe to say baseball fans aren’t amused.

“People need the games after going through COVID-19 to lift their spirits and get back to normal,” said Toronto Blue Jays fan Bill Farina, who lives in Palm Harbor, Fla., and was watching a game Senators-Lightning NHL. “I’m disappointed in baseball. They don’t care about the fans, and the fans are going to leave them behind.

“Why would they stay and support these guys just to get burned?”

St. Louis Cardinals fan Hunter Knifffin is among those wondering if the game can survive a lengthy work stoppage. He was a teenager during the 1994-95 strike that wiped out a World Series and about 70 regular season games for each team.

He remembers the fan apathy that followed and how the sport was finally energized by the Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa home run that captivated the country in 1998. He’s not sure baseball will be so lucky this time. It’s a different world than the mid to late 1990s and there are more entertainment options than ever.

“It might be a lot harder to bounce back this time around,” said Kniffin, who plays about 10 games every year. “I just don’t see how baseball can afford to lose more exposure to other major sports.”

Pittsburgh Pirates fan Anthony Margiotta has two sons who play youth baseball. He is a stalwart who said the lockdown will not affect his plans to attend games when and if they are played, especially if the weather is nice on a summer evening.

But he also knows that many fans are not like him. If baseball is out of sight, it’s out of mind, and it certainly doesn’t attract young fans when games are canceled.

“I’m sure that doesn’t help matters, let’s just say that,” said Margiotta, 45.

Perhaps the scariest part for MLB was that many fans seemed resigned to baseball’s fading popularity. Joe Hart wore a Detroit Tigers hat on Tuesday night but was watching another sport, attending an NBA Pistons-Wizards game in Washington.

He said the decision to cancel Opening Day baseball was “no surprise” and blamed owners slightly more than players for the current fiasco.

But more than the desire to blame, there is simply disgust. Being a baseball fan is not easy these days.

“People are struggling and struggling, and they’re trying to figure out how to divide billions of dollars,” Hart said. “It’s like that.”


AP baseball writers Ronald Blum and Noah Trister and AP sportswriters Fred Goodall and Will Graves contributed to this story.


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