It usually happens in the car — that feeling, of being both in one place and utterly elsewhere at the same time.
The fading embers of the day flicker by as you turn a knob on the dashboard and low static drones through the space like insects in the summer.
For a moment nothing happens, but then Scott Franzke’s voice tumbles through the radio, transporting you through space and time itself. You’re taken not only to the Phillies game that night, but to every Phillies game that you’ve ever listened to, and more importantly, to every place that you’ve ever listened to the Phillies on the radio. The constant metronomic tick of Scott Franzke and Larry Andersen’s voices awake memories buried deep in your subconscious: road trips, hospital visits, funerals, and birthday parties — all accompanied by the chatter of the Phillies radio broadcast.
Listening, as opposed to watching, baseball grounds us in a sense of time and place. While this sentiment is undoubtedly apparent in the majority of baseball fans across the country, I think it’s one that needs revisiting — especially to the next generation of fans in today’s digital age.
Everything in sports media is dedicated to accessibility – the easier it is to find something, the more people will flock to it. I can watch any game — not just the Phillies — from practically any app on my phone, from anywhere I can get cellular data. Moreover, fans who have grown up with social media such as myself, don’t just want a constant feed of highlights — we expect it.
Baseball — unlike basketball and football — doesn’t fit into this mold. Baseball is slow and methodical and, dare I say, at times, boring. No method of watching the game, no matter how accessible, can change that.
So what should we do instead? We should listen.
After all, a radio broadcast of baseball offers the one true thing that other sports, whether televised or on the radio cannot: escapism. A Sunday spent watching the Eagles or an evening with the 76ers doesn’t transport us into a new world, it keeps us right where we are. Our societal need to immerse ourselves in a different reality is more prevalent than it ever has been — streaming services like Netflix and Spotify make millions by churning out content to feed our content starved brains. The golden age of television spawned a golden age of podcasts, as we constantly search for new ways to lose ourselves in stories.
Important for the young fan to know, however, is that come springtime, all they need to do to lose themselves in a different world is to tune the radio. Listening, far more so than just watching, is what builds a true connection to the game. It’s akin to reading your favorite book instead of watching film adaptation: you get to create your own narrative, your imagination supported by the scaffolding of the commentator’s words, unburdened by what’s on the television screen. Your favorite players become almost mythical in proportion, the heroes in your team’s battle for victory. The rhythm of the game — its static-filled pre-pitch lulls and sudden bursts of actions — builds suspense and anticipation, instead of boredom at the inaction.
Each moment spent listening to a baseball game adds another memory to a time capsule, one that can only be accessed by the sound of broadcast. It’s an appreciation of baseball in its purest form — a game that becomes a part of who you are, no matter where you are.
While I don’t know which demographics listen to the most baseball games on the radio, I do know this — Major League Baseball is trying desperately to cultivate a younger audience. Despite an uptick in younger television viewers in 2020, the MLB doesn’t have nearly the draw that the NFL and NBA have in younger demographics.
Maybe in order to grow young fans, the MLB should turn to what made them America’s pastime in the first place — the radio.
Featured Image: CBS