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Sara’s Diary: Day 5 without baseball

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The generation gap in baseball and COVID-19

Major League Baseball Suspends Spring Training
Fans linger in their seats after a Grapefruit League game as baseball is suspended on March 12.
Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

One of the issues that Major League Baseball has grappled with in recent years is an aging fanbase. It feels like every year there are think pieces and reports like this one from Bleacher Report surveying young people, players and fans to try and figure out ways to get younger people engaged with the game. Teams and MLB have spent a lot of time and resources on new strategies to reinvigorate interest. They have looked at a lot of different social media strategies, added fun theme weekends like MLB Players’ Weekend (although hopefully with better uniforms next time) and created special series like the London Series, or the Field of Dreams Game.

It will take awhile to know if those strategies are successful or not. I’ve been pretty adamant that it’s a mistake to only allow players to express their full personality on a single weekend and that MLB would do well to allow players to express their personalities all season long. No one knows how many of these special games and events will occur in this shortened season we’re facing for 2020. We just know that for now there are more older fans of baseball than younger fans of baseball, as this chart from Chris Hines of the Star Tribune makes clear:

MLB interest by age according to 2016-17 Nielsen Scarborough Research.
Chris Hines - Star Tribune

I’ve been thinking about this generation gap well beyond baseball as I settle into COVID-19 reality. At first I thought there were just a lot of foolhardy young people messing up on St. Patrick’s Day, and while that was certainly true, it turns out people’s responses to COVID-19 are a lot more complicated than just young people feeling indestructible.

My first inkling that something was off came in a conversation with my parents at the end of last week. My mother spent 25 years in the Emergency Room as an RN. She also ran that emergency room for multiple years. As I talked to her about what I was hearing before we canceled the event I was planning I was relieved to hear her taking this seriously. She understood the threat and the risk. She’s had some health problems in the last two years that resulted in a prolonged, life-threatening infection, and while she’s finally on the mend and doing well, I am absolutely terrified of her being exposed to the novel coronavirus.

My conversation with my father was an entirely different, and frustrating, experience. Don’t get me wrong, he believes the virus exists and everything, he just tends to think that the media blows everything out of proportion and he honestly seemed to think I was being hyperbolic. He seemed sympathetic that we had to cancel our event but thought it was sort of overkill that I was working from home for the foreseeable future.

Frankly, I was stunned. My dad is a brilliant man, but he’s just wrong about this and in ways that scare me. The health risk is much greater to him at age 69 than it is to me, and I just couldn’t figure out how to get through to him. It turns out I am not the only one having these conversations. Last night a friend of mine from college posted this New Yorker article on Facebook: “Convincing Boomer Parents to Take the Coronavirus Seriously.

Let me be really clear, I already know what some of you are thinking: Not all Boomers! And that is valid and totally true. I mean I just told you how easily my mom got it and understood, but stories like these are not great:

Last Wednesday night, not long after Florida Man’s Oval Office address, I called my mother to check in about the, you know, unprecedented global health crisis that’s happening. She told me that she and my father were in a cab on the way home from a fun dinner at the Polo Bar, in midtown Manhattan, with another couple who were old friends.

“You went to a restaurant?!” I shrieked. This was several days after she had told me, through sniffles, that she was recovering from a cold but didn’t see any reason that she shouldn’t go to the school where she works. Also, she was still hoping to make a trip to Florida at the end of the month. My dad, a lawyer, was planning to go into the office on Thursday, but thought that he might work from home on Friday, if he could figure out how to link up his personal computer. That night, moments after getting into bed, I sprang up and wrote them an anxious e-mail. “I feel like the two of you are not taking serious enough precautions right now,” I told them. “The time is DONE for going out to restaurants, showing up at the office every day, etc. Just stay inside and watch TV!” When I followed up with texts, my mother wrote back sarcastically, “Thanks mom.”

This isn’t an isolated concern. Yesterday I talked to my best friend. The girl I’ve known since we were seven and considered my closest friend since early in high school. A few years ago she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Her mother has also recently been undergoing chemotherapy. To say I’ve been worried about them both is the biggest understatement of all time. I didn’t even have a chance to bring up the article above, she volunteered the same worry. Luckily her parents are taking COVID-19 very seriously, but both of us know lots of older people who aren’t. It only takes one of those people being careless around her mom, her, or my mom for this nightmare to hit entirely too close to home.

An article in Vogue offers a hypothesis for the disconnected response from some Baby Boomers:

Earlier this week, I was talking to my fabulous feminist mother and I asked her point blank. “Are you worried about getting Covid-19?”

“No,” she said. “I’m not in the target age.”

I was kind of shocked. My mom is 78 years old, but like many Baby-Boomers, she thinks she’ll be fine because she doesn’t feel old and she writes books and has all the energy of someone in her 30s. And while I applaud her, I foresee this being an enormous problem. We are living in a time of older adults feeling good, even invincible, and they are certainly healthier than their own parents were at this age.

But that’s why we may be heading into disaster. Because Boomers don’t think of themselves as “older adults.” They don’t understand that just because they feel a certain way that doesn’t mean that they won’t be the most affected by Covid-19.

The novel coronavirus doesn’t care that 60 is the new 40, or that age is only a state of mind. It doesn’t care that previous risks were sensationalized by the media and or that you think younger generations are soft for working from home. The only way that social distancing works is if all of us do it. That means the young people who think they will never die need to forego their St. Patrick’s Day bar crawl and the older generation needs to realize that they do face the likelihood of more complications. Unlike enjoying America’s pastime this is one issue where the generation gap can have deadly consequences.