In Lieu of the Today's Chapter Four Installment
How Starbucks Ruined Baseball
This short essay is a placeholder for the next installment of Wilbur’s Suburbo. As I’ve mentioned, producing the Suburbo is extremely labor intensive, requiring a) an idea; b) a preliminary pencil sketch on a piece of typing paper, c) a penciled sketch of the actual installment, d) inking that sketch, and then e) coloring it --- all before photographing and posting it. Last week (starting Sunday, May 27th) I attended three New York Yankee baseball games --- two in the Bronx and one at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore. Hence, no Suburbo. While I begin working on the next installment (parts a) and b), above have been completed) I thought I’d share some observations about going to the ballpark in 2018, my 61st year of attending such athletic contests.
Despite it being late May/early June, anyone who has been outside or looked out his/her window here in the Northeast knows that Mother Nature is not particularly cooperating with baseball this Spring. The Sunday afternoon game the Lovely Carol Marie and I attended on May 27th was extremely unpleasant, as the temperature fell into the 50s and a cold, sometimes wet, wind churned all day. The game itself was fun, with the Yankees defeating the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (why not the New York Yankees of the Bronx?) 3-1. On Wednesday I went to the 6:35 p.m. game against the Houston Astros with my old friend, Steve Jones (who had, quite graciously, gotten the tickets for my birthday!). It was a lovely night for a ball game and the Yankees prevailed 5-3 behind a sterling pitching performance from their ace, Luis Severino. Finally, on Saturday June 2nd the Lovely Carol Marie and I went to Oriole Park at Camden Yards to see the Yanks beat the Orioles 8-5, although we left in the 7th inning, assured of a Yankee win and tired of sitting in the rain. The game was delayed from its scheduled 4:05 pm. start until 5:45 p.m. (and almost NO RAIN fell during that time). Around the second inning a steady, annoying (if not exactly “soaking”) rain thoroughly doused the afternoon/evening.
We went to Baltimore to see the “Ballpark,” and it was certainly worth it. I’ll talk about that later. What I want to discuss here is how I think Starbucks has ruined going to the ballpark for the devoted, avid fan. You may wonder where Starbucks and major league baseball intersect, so I’ll explain. When Starbucks was created in Seattle in 1971 it was just another West Coast “boutique” coffee shop (Peet’s, Seattle’s Best, The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Tully’s, etc.). They quickly realized they had to do something to distinguish them from the pack. Over the next decade, Starbucks began to promote not their coffee (which is good) but their “experience.” Not “we’ve been in business and know what we’re doing” kind of “experience,” but “come here and you’ll get more than a cup of coffee, . . . you’ll get an ‘experience.’” Hence we have those friendly “baristas” and coffee that in bizarrely sized containers: Short (8 oz.), Tall (12 oz.), Venti (16 oz.) and, now, the Trenta (31 oz.!). Starbucks also made sure we could see their baristas at work. As important, you can smell the product --- aroma being part of the “experience.” Starbucks also put a premium on the physical design of their shops --- allowing for sitting and reading (initially), using your portable device, or chatting with friends. (We won’t discuss the recent Philadelphia fiasco here) In all, the expectation was that Starbucks wasn’t just serving you a cup of coffee but providing you with an experience.
Lots of businesses --- in the food industry and otherwise --- have followed suit and providing consumers with an experience is just as (if not more than) important than the product. And that’s what has happened at the ballpark! It’s no longer about going to the game to “root, root, root for the home team.” No, now it’s about the “baseball/ballpark experience.” At the Wednesday night game with Steve, and then again in Baltimore with the LCM, there were people constantly walking up and down the steps (obstructing the view for fans who actually came to watch the game), like a never-ending river of consumption. The ballparks these days, are rife with an unending array of food/eating possibilities, “team stores,” and even restaurants! From what we “experienced” while trying to actually watch the ball game was people incessantly walking in front of us, people are coming to the game to eat, shop, and bullshit with their friends, paying little attention to the game. Along with those people who insist on bringing their infants to the game (will the child really remember the “experience?” Was there no alternative regarding child care?), the folks who are showing up to “experience” Yankee Stadium or Oriole Park would do all real baseball fans a favor by simply going out to eat and staying away from the game!
Hot dogs and Cracker Jacks and beer have always been part of the going to the ballpark, for sure. Lurching down steps while balancing a huge bucket of fried chicken parts or an equally enormous kettle of popcorn (who could possibly consume that much?), the “experiencers” block the sight lines of true fans simply to spend most of the game eating and not even watching the game!
And that, my friends, is how Starbucks has ruined baseball. In becoming more “fan-friendly” and “family-friendly,” baseball organizations have simply become another corporation aimed at attracting as many “consumers” as possible, without any concern for the “experience” of the died-in-the-wool baseball fan. Putting a premium on the ballpark “experience” and not the ball game itself makes it more and more difficult to the fans that go to the ballpark to watch the game to enjoy their time there.