THE WAY IT OUGHTA BE? PEEKING AHEAD TO THE 21ST CENTURY, THE AUTHOR ENCOUNTERS A VERY DIFFERENT GAME

March 12, 1996

Dad, what did you think of Fuentes?" Adam asks. This being our
first major league game together--the year is 2001, and the
Angels are in New York for the Mets' home opener--I am so
overcome with pride that I nearly choke on my sandwich of
blackened, farm-raised tilapia on multigrain bread. This, I
think, is the seminal moment I've yearned for, when baseball
enriches the bond between father and son.

"Not much pop at the plate," I say, "but Tito was smooth on the
pivot."

"Tito?" my nine-year-old blurts. "Who are you talking about,
Dad? I mean Daisy Fuentes. You know, the dugout reporter from
the playoffs last year?"

Oh, yeah. I forgot. Last year baseball owners put some
postseason games on MTV, a venture they deemed a huge
success--even though the network kept cutting away for concert
news and music videos--because, the owners bragged, "the Nielsen
demographics skewed toward a more youthful profile." Or something.

"Well," I say, "I thought she asked some tough questions after
the Brewers won it all and Bud Selig presented himself with the
Commissioner's Trophy. But Bud said again he had no interest in
being the next commissioner, even though this is his ninth year
on the job."

"By the way, Dad, where is the World Series this year?"

"I think it's in New Orleans." This is the third year since the
owners decided to put the World Series up for auction, awarding
it to the highest bidder among warm-weather cities and those
with domes, and since they started referring to it by Roman
numerals. "Is it World Series XCVII or XCVIII? I'll tell you,
Adam, I miss the good old days, when only four first-place teams
made it to the postseason, and the Series was charged with the
excitement of two teams that had never met before."

"Yeah, right, Dad. When was that, back in the '20s?"

"Hardly. That was only 1993. The majors set an alltime
attendance record that year. But the next season the owners
began treating baseball like a Tinker Toy. They started the
wild-card system, they created The Baseball Network--Waterworld
got better reviews--then they started interleague play in 1997.
Before that, you won a batting title or a home run crown by
being the best against the teams and pitchers in your league."

"Jeez, Dad, lighten up. Nobody cares about that purist stuff
anymore. If baseball is so special, why do the owners and
players have a lockout or strike every three or four years?
C'mon, Dad, let's find something to do."

Adam pulls me out of my seat and we take a walk. This is what
fans do at ballparks nowadays. At any moment, half of them are
cruising the place as if it were Saturday night at the mall.
Maybe it started with Coors Field, which has a microbrewery and
a playground. Then came BankOne Ballpark in Phoenix, which has a
swimming pool in the outfield bleachers.

After Disney bought the Angels, they put in the Angels Pennant
Race Roller Coaster (complete with the big dip at the end) where
the leftfield seats used to be. Here in New York, the Mets built
a five-star gourmet restaurant in centerfield, which is why they
named their new ballpark Chez Stadium. Adam wants to check out
the virtual-reality arcade and the Cuisines of the World food
court. The line for paella is incredibly long.

"Look, Dad, a Coronas jersey! Can I have one?"

Everybody loves the new expansion team that will begin play in
2002, the Mexico City Coronas, and their fuzzy green mascot,
Loco the lime wedge.

"You know," I say, "I remember when corporate sponsorship wasn't
so blatant in baseball."

"Oh, no, here we go again."

"No, really. I remember the old Seattle Mariners, who became the
Seattle Gameboys and then, when the team was sold, the Seattle
Swooshes. I miss the old Detroit Tigers. That's what the Pizzas
used to be called before their owner went for the
direct-marketing tie-in and all those alternate road jerseys. I
think that's why Cecil Fielder quit--he took so much abuse in
that jersey with the pepperoni-and-extra-cheese logo."

"Dad, let's go home. If we hurry, we can catch the last couple
of innings on Fox. I love that flaming-baseball special effect
they use."

"Yeah, and I'm sure you love that Fox Box in the upper lefthand
corner, the one that has each batter's salary per at bat. Man,
sometimes I wonder if this is even the same game I saw when I
was your age, going to doubleheaders with my dad."

"Gee, I hope not. No offense, Dad, but I think baseball's much
cooler now. Kinda like hockey."

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATION BY DAVID DIAZ [Drawing of chef, swimmer diving, baseball game, and roller coaster]

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)