March means a lot to sports fans in America. For many it’s the madness of the NCAA tournament as their favorite college basketball teams battle for glory. For others it’s the beginning of the NFL free agent signing period.
To those of us devoted to America’s pastime, it means baseball is back. Our long winter of discontent is finally over!
In the timeless classic Field of Dreams (at least classic to those of us who understand that “can of corn” really is a sports term, “chin music” is not a calming lullaby and a steal shouldn’t always warrant an arrest), James Earl Jones’ character said America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This game is a part of our past. It reminds us of all that was good, and could be again.
He described baseball fans as people who would sit where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. They’ll watch the game, and it’ll be as if they’d dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. The one constant through all the years has been baseball.
And that, friends, is why I, like millions before me, made the annual March pilgrimage to Florida, to watch our favorite teams work out the kinks in Spring Training games (practice games, to non-baseball fans).
I’ve come to Orlando, to ESPN’s Wide World of Sports in Disney World, spring home to my beloved Atlanta Braves, to watch as we take on our hated rivals, the Philadelphia Phillies.
Everything about that is great, except for the fact that we’re in Disney.
My favorite Braves beat writer, David O’Brien, calls this place “Dark Star,” so much does he loathe the corporate culture that has replaced the innocence of Spring Training baseball.
I, too, find myself nostalgic for the once intimate facilities dotting Florida and Arizona, which have today been replaced by corporate sponsors and $6 hot dogs. Once you could buy cheap tickets to watch your boyhood heroes, maybe shaking their hands or giddily passing over a ball to be autographed before games in dilapidated parks we somehow viewed as cathedrals. Over the years these small, charming ballparks have given way to lavish stadiums, with valet parking and Playstation Pavillions, where parents can deposit kids more interested in video games than time-honored tradition.
Baseball fans are poorer for it (and not just because tickets now cost $40.) Though, if I’m being completely honest, I must admit that I’m not sorry to see the self-centered Ritalin-charged children go elsewhere. In my two days at Disney I’ve been trampled by more bratty kids than you could pack into a Chucky Cheese. It’s a strong inducement for birth control. Rick Santorum would hate it.
And a side note, ladies. If your babies can’t yet form words, we don’t want to “meet” them. If your children can’t possibly quote today’s Braves scores, have only recently discovered and are fascinated by their thumbs or stand a reasonably good chance of pooing themselves during the “meeting,” I’m not interested. Call me in ten years, when, of course, Spring Training tickets will probably cost $100.
All that aside, we thoroughly enjoyed the game. The Phillies were typically merciless, jumping out to a 7-1 lead in the 4th inning, but it was still Spring baseball, and even the corporate clowns at Disney couldn’t ruin that. (I’m pleased to report that my boys staged a comeback in the late innings, and the game ended in a 7-7 tie, as can only happen in Spring Training.)
After the game we wandered over to Epcot Center, Disney’s theme park “dedicated to the celebration of human achievement, international culture and technological innovation,” where we emptied what cash remained in our wallets to tour the park radiating “joy, hope and friendship!”
Epcot’s stated mission is to “inform and inspire!” showcasing pavilions it claims are accurate representations of eleven countries, plus attractions like the iconic “Spaceship Earth,” “Imagination” and “Mission: Space.”
In truth, Epcot does little more than play into cultural stereotypes. The Germany Pavilion features, of course, an Oktoberfest Biergarten, the China pavilion has regular costumed Dragon parades and the French Pavilion smells funny and doesn’t shave its armpits. I’ve actually been to Germany, China and France, and can tell you that there’s a lot more to Germany than beer, dragon parades are a rarity in China and in France . . . well, never mind.)
Epcot is interesting and even entertaining (though the “American Adventure” show is 30 minutes of tacky, white-washed history, riddled with fist-pumping, out-of-control patriotism). But I find myself rather snobbily irritated with people who’ve been to Epcot and think this makes them cultured.
Disney is a fairy tale, and as such functions beautifully when we remember that. But when the made up place presents a made up world as if it were an accurate reflection of reality, the lines between education and entertainment are hopelessly blurred.
And Epcot is but a microcosm of what’s happening to the world. The Disneyfication of global society has been accelerating for years. Today you can enjoy a Big Mac at McDonalds in 123 countries. Kentucky Fried Chicken is the most popular restaurant in China, and Disney movies are translated into nearly 130 different languages for billions of eager fans around the globe.
And that’s a shame.
The homogenization of societies means that the world my grandfather saw while touring as a young naval recruit no longer exists. The cultures I’m lucky enough to experience in my travels now will be unrecognizable when those kids who so aggravated me today come of age.
And we’re all the poorer for it.
This is not an indictment of Disney. I like Disney. I just don’t like my world, or my baseball, becoming Disney.
After spending a few hours people-watching at Epcot (probably the best attraction there) I’ve concluded that I’m terribly worried about Florida. Judging by the average weight of Epcot’s visitors, Florida must surely be on the verge of tipping into the ocean, drowning millions of retirees and Cubans.
On a happier note, we ended our day at Paradiso 37, “Taste of the Americas!” Paradiso 37 is a wonderful joint featuring live music on the water-side deck and a tequila tower stocked with 37 different types of tequila. We did our best to try them all, though, being in Disney, it cost an arm and a leg. But it was late, past most kids’ bedtime, so we did so in relative peace.
Best of all, I only had to “meet” one infant, who gurgled adorably at me then vomited on his mother, though in a terribly cultured way, since he’d spent the day at Epcot.