by Mark Jent
With the opening week of games now behind us, I wanted to just drop you a letter expressing my gratitude that can be summed up in three words – thanks for listening. Since we have now all enjoyed a Vlad Jr 3 HR game, a Kershaw near perfecto, Rachel Balkovec and Alyssa Nakken making history on the field and Seiya Suzuki taking the Windy City by storm, it kinda seems like light years ago that we thought the season was in jeopardy. It’s been a whirlwind of activity the past 35 days, so before we get too far into the season I wanted to pause for a moment and pen this letter to you – Robert D. Manfred, Jr.
Let’s rewind to early March. As the three month league-imposed lockout continued, I was honored that you called me to MLB Headquarters a few weeks ago in New York to represent the fans in this ordeal. It was Day 99. To my right was MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark and future Hall of Famer Max Scherzer representing the Players Association. To my left was you and the league brass representing the owners. And there I was at the far end of the board room table patiently waiting my turn to speak on behalf of all 45 million baseball fans who walked through the gates last season.
I could not have been more grateful for the opportunity. Since December 2nd I had done nothing more than scroll Twitter looking for updates, so how did I end up in this position? Where was Baseball Brit? He could speak on behalf of all mustachioed fans world wide. Where was Zack Hample? He could have been there to represent all the ballhawkers. Or where was Thumbs Down Guy, Gary Dunaier? He could have been there with his famous thumb doing what every baseball fan in America was thinking about the lockout!
Yet for some reason you picked up the phone and called me in Nashville – Simply A Fan’s chief trip planner and designated storyteller. You must have seen something more in my social media influence (must be my massive 365 Twitter followers who I am grateful for!) than I saw in myself.
Mister Commissioner, as you later confessed, you had proverbially swung and missed several times leading up to and during the lockout. In reality this lockout was five years in the making since the owners raked the players over the coals in a huge victory after the 2016 CBA deal. It was evident to all of us that we were unfortunately headed down this path in the spring of 2020, when from the outset of the pandemic, the two sides were bickering about terms and you had to force a 60 game season. It was evident in the month of November when the owners were spending nearly $2 billion dollars on free agents while the padlocks of December 1st stared the sport in the face. Then when the clock struck midnight on December 1st and crossed over into December 2nd, we all knew the inevitable was upon us. What we didn’t know was that our beloved national pastime would go dark for 43 days until the sides first spoke. This was followed by another 40 something days of useless banter and the two sides had to convene on the planet of Jupiter (FL) to even wet the whistle. We will never forget The Giggle and Smirk Conference you hosted that afternoon when you canceled the first week of games while laughing your way through your presser. That was not your best moment, Rob!
Yet something seemed to click in the days that followed as you likely heard the moans and groans of dismay and disappointment from baseball fans. Maybe you hopped on Twitter just to catch up on what everyone thought (probably not!). Maybe you browsed an ESPN Jeff Passan article, or better yet, a Ken Rosenthal story from The Athletic that spoke truthfully and honestly about the black mark this was going to leave on the game and your legacy.
Whatever transpired over those last 48-72 hours of the lockout was completely unexpected in the baseball universe – an agreement! It was an agreement that broke the chains off the gates of spring training, allowed players to return to clubhouses and let fans make summer family plans.
As the day dragged on with Buster Olney continually blowing up my phone, I patiently waited for my turn. I was glad you turned to me in that most critical moment on the afternoon of March the 10th in the year two thousand twenty-two. “Mark, after 99 days, we are so close to the finish line – what should we do?” I had not felt a spotlight shine that brightly on me since I sang “Little Toy Trains” for the Christmas play in Dave Sander’s drama class my senior year of high school in ‘96 at Marshall County High School (Lewisburg, TN).
As Mad Max kicked me in the shin under the table and glared at me with his brown and blue eyes, I knew it was my time to step up to the plate. I had not been this locked in since Robbie McDaniel of Cornersville kept throwing me 37 mile per hour fastballs down the pipe my 12 year old season of Little League.
If you’ll remember as I stood up, I cleared my voice and stuck out my chest to give my best James Earl Jones voice and finally had the opportunity to recite what I had prepared on the flight from BNA to JFK, “Rob, people will come Rob. They’ll come to Iowa and pay to see the Yankees play the White Sox on FOX for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up your driveway, not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. ‘Of course, we won’t mind if you look around,’ you’ll say, ‘It’s only eight thousand dollars per person to watch a game in the cornfield.’ They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it. For it is money they have and peace they lack.
People will come, Rob. The one constant through all the years, except in the nine work stoppages, has been baseball. Like this lockout, America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again (kinda like you canceled six games that one time, but then gave them back to us). But baseball has marked the time. Those fields – this game – it’s a part of our past, Rob. It reminds us of all that once was good, and it could be again. You just have to cut the padlocks off the chains holding the gates together. Even the angry people on Twitter will most definitely come back. Here’s an ink pen, just sign the papers. Ohhhhhhhh, people will come, Rob.”
Then I sat down. You were sweating profusely. Max was crying uncontrollably. Tony Clark stood and gave me a standing ovation. What you didn’t know is that I had it worked out for Kevin Costner to walk in the door just as I finished my speech while he just tossed a ball up and down in his hands asking you and Max to have a catch. Too bad his Uber took a wrong turn.
As the media barrage ensued, I snuck out the back door to catch a ride back to JFK to fly home and we haven’t talked since then. That’s okay, we’ve both been busy doing our things – you as commissioner of our $11 billion sport are doing commissioner-esque things, while I try to bring a few people to your ballparks to catch a game and might make a few Ben Franklins in the process.
Humbly speaking, I don’t want to take credit for a new collective bargaining agreement that was reached on March 10th. No, not me – that’s not in my nature to want the spotlight! Hence why I am writing you this letter instead. We both know that it “just so happened” to be the very day you invited me to the negotiating table. But I digress, it took teamwork!
Thank you Rob. Thank you for listening. As simply a fan, it was my pleasure to play a wee small part in saving the season.
Rob and I hanging out (for 10 seconds) at the 2015 Cincinnati, MLB All-Star Game
Mark Jent is the chief trip planner and designated storyteller for Simply A Fan. He lives in Nashville with his wife Beth, and their three kids, Brooklyn, Harrison and Zach. He enjoys cheering on his Dodgers, reading baseball history, hiking at Radnor Lake and chasing waterfalls throughout Tennessee with his family. He launched Simply A Fan in July 2018 with the two-fold purpose of taking people on adventures to ballparks across the country and providing fans a platform to share their baseball stories. He is currently on a quest to meet as many of the living Brooklyn Dodgers as possible.
Thank you for reading this story. If you’d like to stay connected with Simply A Fan,
you can do so by becoming a subscriber on our email list by clicking here.
Or you can follow along on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or YouTube.