Great news! I got a baseball time machine. It can take us to any baseball game in any year, so let’s just pick our destinations and off we’ll go.
Except, it can’t go back. That’s just science.
So: No, we can’t see Jackie Robinson debut or Babe Ruth pitch or Oscar Charleston hit .451. These all have to be in the future.
Beyond that, here are the rules: We can go to baseball games, and only baseball games. We won’t be able to leave the game or speak to anybody while we’re there, but we can wander around the park and look at the scoreboards (if there are any). Our phones will not work, obviously, so no internet (if there is any). It’s a pretty smart machine, so we don’t have to know exact dates and times; “Adley Rutschman‘s major league debut” or “Lance Lynn‘s sixth start in 2021″ will get us to those places if they exist. We have enough fuel for six trips, and we have to choose our itinerary right now. I know those are clunky rules, but time machines in 2019 are still clunky. Maybe they’ll make a better one in the future.
Here’s the trip I’m thinking of:
First stop: World Series, Game 4, 2019
This is explicitly an acknowledgment that you immediately started thinking about how to use this time machine to make money gambling when you return to the present. If you think about it, yuck, that’s just theft, I can’t believe you’re using this incredible invention to steal money, but … yeah, I probably want to do that too. So we use one trip for straight-up profit.
This game is designed to maximize that profit in just one trip. We want to pick something in the near future, so that when we return to the present we can start making bets and living our billionaire lifestyle almost immediately. One option would be to travel to one of tomorrow’s night games, and bet as much money as we can raise on every score that shows up on the out-of-town scoreboard. But it would presumably raise eyebrows if you were to try to max out on regular-season baseball (with no history of placing huge bets or even having much money), and it would presumably be hard to get sports books to even take your $3 million bets on a Thursday A’s-Royals game. But watching World Series Game 4 will give you a lot of information for high-profile betting possibilities: The pennant winners, a couple of ALDS winners, maybe the wild-card game winners, perhaps each team’s final record, a whole bunch of regular-season stats, not to mention (probably, if you pay close attention) the results of World Series Games 1, 2 and 3. You’ve got time to keep doubling your bankroll on bets along the way, and it won’t be too outrageous to lay down some six-figure bets during the World Series itself. You’ll get super rich, you morally bankrupt scoundrel.
(We’re picking Game 4 because there might not be a Game 7, 6 or 5, and I haven’t yet figured out what happens if I ask the time machine to take us to a game that won’t exist. We might end up in the void. Also, seeing Game 4’s outcome will probably still let you return and watch the end of the World Series with some suspense!)
Second stop: Mike Trout‘s final game
The most fun part of most stories is the beginning. You get introduced to your dramatic hero, and to the high-minded concept that gives the story energy. But if the beginning is the most fun, the conclusion is the most necessary. Even if you start to hate the story, you have to see how it ends. Even if you get so bored by the story that you give up on it, you’ll probably skip to the end — or read the Wikipedia page — to put your mind at ease that it did, in fact, conclude.
We’ve seen the fun start to Mike Trout’s historic career, and it might stay fun for a really, really long time — but now that we’re in it, we all really must know, eventually, how it is going to end. So we’ll use a trip to get there. This, yes, is a gamble, as we don’t know how Trout’s career will end, but the odds are — knock on wood, knock on more wood, bring me every piece of wood there is — it will end by his choice and with great ceremony. If we’re there we’ll find out, from all the speeches and scoreboard displays, how many hits he ended up with, how many homers, what his biggest moments were. We’re going to see highlights from throughout his career, and there’s a good chance we’ll get to hear him speak as a middle-aged man, or at least see how he moves, waves and hugs as a middle-aged man. There’s a pretty good chance he’ll be an Angel for his entire career, and we’ll get to see how that franchise sends off easily the greatest player in the team’s history, if not — but maybe — the greatest player in the game’s history. We’ll get to see the longest standing ovation that human hips can support. In fact, I will predict this: No regular-season game (if it is a regular-season game) will have higher viewership between now and 2035 than this one.
We’ll probably get to see it eventually anyway, but you can’t be sure. None of us can take for granted that we’ll be here for Mike Trout’s final game. If you knew you wouldn’t, you’d definitely want to read the Wikipedia page and see how it ends, if you could. We have a time machine. We can. Let’s go.
Third stop: The 2048 All-Star Game
The bulk of the 2048 All-Stars probably haven’t been born yet. In the next few years, they will be born. Some of them will live near you, and they’ll start playing ball — unheralded, of course, since nobody knows what history has in store for them. They’ll be the one kid at a scouting showcase who, although even the scouts can’t quite forecast it, will fulfill the very best version of their potential. Most will make their professional debuts in front of 1,000 people in small minor league cities, and tickets to sit 35 feet away from them will be cheap and attainable. When we return to the present, we will know who these future heroes are. We can actually go cheer for them.
The other benefit is that we’ll get a good look at what baseball will look like in 30 years. That’s true of any game in 2048, and there are probably games from that year that will be more interesting and historically significant, in retrospect. But the challenge of a time machine that only goes forward is that history hasn’t already done the sifting for us. If the time machine went backward, you could plug in June 12, 1970, and see the most interesting game of that year — the no-hitter Dock Ellis threw on LSD. But the whole point of baseball is that it’s mountains of routine with a few nuggets of gold waiting to surprise you. We don’t have the luxury, with this time machine, of watching a game a day for 30 years and building up a library of amazing moments. So there’s probably not much hope of picking a day at random and seeing that year’s most necessary moment. So, we might as well pick the All-Star Game, where at the least we know we’ll get to see just how good the very best baseball players are going to get in the next three decades.
Fourth stop: The Marlins’ 81st game in 2099
Somewhere along the way, I got to wondering when Major League Baseball would truly die — probably not quit playing entirely, but reach some significant moment when it was clear it no longer had the critical mass to be considered a major sport. It’s a very healthy industry/cultural gathering place right now in 2019. But nothing lasts forever, and after a lot of thought I more or less arbitrarily settled on “in 80 years.” Well, let’s find out!
At the least, I would like to see baseball in exactly 80 years, thriving or not thriving. We all spend a lot of time suggesting solutions for what ails Major League Baseball, some radical and some incremental. To go forward almost a century would tell us, right now, whether baseball has the appetite and capacity for any of those changes. If it does, if it has, we can go back to the present and enjoy the process of seeing it labor to make those changes. If it doesn’t, we can make peace with baseball exactly as it is, and quit wasting mental energy trying to change a loved one that isn’t going to change. And if the game 80 years from now is, in fact, in disrepair or irrelevant, then at least we’ll be able to appreciate its final years. Obviously, even if baseball goes on forever, it is finite for you and me and everybody else whose cells are subject to the Hayflick limit. But, of course, we don’t wake up and appreciate that finitude. We live every day like there are infinite more after it. If baseball is dying, and we knew for a fact because we’d already seen it die, we maybe wouldn’t. We could start to say goodbye while we can.
Maybe it all takes place in virtual reality arenas! Maybe it’s just Home Run Derby! Maybe it’s played by robots! Maybe the peanuts are dusted with onion powder!
Also: Is there baseball in Miami? Is there Miami? Nobody is going to believe you when you come back, so it’s probably pointless to find out, but if you knew for absolute certain what the answer to the latter question was, it might really change the way you lived your life. You might save the world!
Fifth stop: Opening Day, 7019
There was no human writing 5,000 years ago. No history, basically. In the span of those 5,000 years, humanity has done … (motions around at literally everything). It is absolutely unthinkable to imagine what humanity will be like 5,000 years from now. Literally unthinkable. It is as foreign to our brains as, like, the concept of an omniscient creator existing on a separate spiritual plane. Way out there.
A recurring theme of religious awakening is when a person — a prophet, a mystic, a sannyasini — has a true encounter with the divine, it changes everything they think they know about their place in the world. The mundane daily concerns of our earthbound lives become tiny and ephemeral next to eternal truths. It’s a glimpse of something incomparably bigger. It seems plausible that the same sort of awakening would happen if one were to see far enough into the future. Would an encounter at what we’ve collectively built/wrought in the next 5,000 years not be a glimpse of something bigger? Would it not inform your understanding of what humanity ultimately is, and how you fit into that? Or, put another way: If you were to watch a game in 7019, played entirely in the seventh dimension by an emergent AI for the entertainment of our collectivized brain, would you still get depressed by your fantasy team?
Sixth stop: Home
I’m tempted to use the sixth trip to go to the Dodgers game on April 15, 2047, to see whatever celebration they’ve put together for the Jackie Robinson centennial, and let ourselves get stranded there. That day, if the powers that be don’t botch it, will be extraordinary, emotional, a necessary reminder of both the sins and the advancements of our past. And 2047 isn’t so far into the future that our brains would explode from trying to live in it. We could go to the Jackie Robinson game and then step off the ride and just live there.
But better to go back home. I don’t think future baseball (and the future) will necessarily be better, and I don’t think it will necessarily be worse — the past would probably feel ambivalent about our present — but I just have so much invested in this generation. I don’t want to miss Clayton Kershaw‘s final start or Rutschman’s major league debut or Game 7 of the 2019 World Series. That’s ultimately what the baseball lifestyle is about — letting the moments find you, rather than cherry-picking the moments. Fingers crossed, we’ll live to see the Jackie Robinson centennial in due time.