Joey Boyd wanted to get his son William off to a good start in life. Part of that start was giving him a solid foundation in baseball.
Boyd got his 5-year-old into a T-ball league at the Park West Rec Center near his home in Mt. Pleasant so he could start working on the fundamentals of the game. For the uninitiated, T-ball is baseball for beginners. There is no pitcher. The ball is set on an adjustable tee in front of the batter, who whacks it with the bat, putting it into play. The field is smaller than a standard baseball field, but most of the rules are pretty much the same.
Boyd also took another step toward getting young William off on the right foot. He went online to get his son enrolled in the New York Yankees Fan Club. This is a ritual for generations of young fans of Major League Ball. A kid would write a letter to his favorite team and be rewarded with a team pennant or some club baseball cards or other trinkets and maybe an official-looking certificate naming him as a member of the team fan club. When he was a kid, Boyd said, he used to get "a ton of stuff" from fan clubs.
"I'm a big Yankees fan," Boyd said. "I was born in New York, but we moved to Aiken when I was young, and the closest Major League team was the Atlanta Braves. This was back during the '70s and '80s, and the Braves were awful back then. My family went to some Braves games, and the place was almost empty. We could sit behind the dugout on the first base line. I just couldn't pull for the Braves. I was a Yankees fan and a member of the Yankees Fan Club."
So Boyd was surprised and more than a little annoyed when he was notified by the Yankees organization that membership in their fan club now costs $26.
"I couldn't believe it!" Boyd said. "Twenty-six bucks. With all the money the leagues make, it looks like they could do a little something for the kids without charging that kind of money. I mean, these are the future fans, and they need to cultivate them."
This is just one more criticism of a sport that many think has lost its way. Team owners are able to extort cities into spending hundreds of millions of public dollars to build stadiums, while paying their players breathtaking salaries that make a mockery of baseball's humble origins and all-American appeal. It's old news, but the world still stands in awe of New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez's 10-year, $252 million contract. Yes, A-Rod is the quarter-billion dollar man!
To pay these teams, cities are selling naming rights to their stadiums. What do names like U.S. Cellular Field (Chicago), QualComm Stadium (San Diego), Cinergy Field (Cincinnati) or Chase Field (Phoenix) say about the teams that play there or the cities where they are located? Team owners have sold their local history and culture to the highest corporate bidder. At the same time, television cable prices are rising, driven in large part by the salaries of professional athletes, and fans are asked to pay ever higher prices to walk through the stadium turnstiles. This past season, Yankees fans ponied up $46 for general admission seats. How many families can go out to the old ballpark at that price?
Now it looks like the owners have found a new revenue stream: kids' fan clubs. Of the 30 MLB teams, all but two — the Marlins and the White Sox — charge for fan club membership.
When Joey Boyd figured out what was going on, he fired off an angry letter to MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, a man with the management acumen of George W. Bush, expressing his dissatisfaction. Selig actually responded, saying he would bring it up at the next owners' meeting. That was several months ago, and Boyd hasn't heard anything from the high commissioner and doesn't expect to. But Selig did offer a glimpse into his soul by sending William an autographed baseball! Yes, William Boyd is now the proud owner of a Bud Selig baseball. He must be the envy of the school yard.
Today, William is a member of the Marlins and White Sox Fan Clubs, as well as the Charleston RiverDogs Fan Club. He regularly goes with his family to Joe Riley Park, where general admission is still $4.
William, I hope you develop a lifelong love of baseball as your father did. I hope you remember that baseball is supposed to be fun. And I hope you remember that, no matter what those millionaire ball players and other rich bastards tell you, it is still only a game.