It was Wednesday, Game 1 of the World Series, and the Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals were battling at Fenway Park. In homes around Red Sox Nation, equally intense matchups were underway, as young fans intent on staying up past bedtime played hardball with their parents.
Let’s join Newton’s David Schumacher and his sons in the bottom of the first. “After this inning we are going to get our pajamas on,” said Schumacher, a litigator and Little League coach. Alas, it was less a statement than a plea. Jamie, 9, a fan so rabid he can recite the story of the 2004 playoff run, and Luke, 6, a fan so uninterested he was asking to listen to music but happy to exploit the situation, sensed weakness.
“Nooooo,” they wailed.
By 9:15 p.m. — 45 minutes past bedtime, following warnings from dad, and pledges from the boys to read more and fight less — Schumacher turned serious. Jamie did, too. Like an activist engaged in nonviolent resistance, he went limp. “Is there something wrong with your body?” Schumacher asked. “I’m glued to the couch,” Jamie said, extending an arm to be helped up, then falling like a rag doll.
Baseball is a game of statistics, and as the teams head to St. Louis, the numbers don’t look good for parents. If the Series runs seven games, six will fall on school nights. If last year’s World Series is any guide, the average game won’t end until 11:35 p.m. Some kids need about 10 hours of sleep, according to a Boston Children’s Hospital specialist, and schools aren’t planning to start late. All of which means that by Nov. 1, a serious portion of the region’s kids may be facing a sleep deficit equal to almost an entire day.
Call it the Curse of the Sandman.
Parents who have proudly encouraged Sox fanaticism all these years now find themselves negotiating with relentless opponents. Kids are promising to eat broccoli and do chores if they are allowed to stay up. They are vowing to sleep extra hours in November. In Jamaica Plain, Jodi Sugerman-Brozan’s fourth-grader played the once-in-a-lifetime card. “You never know when this will happen again,” he told her. “I might not even be alive.”
Eleven-year-old Isabel Costa-Smith is using guilt. “I told my dad it would only be fair for me to stay up because he didn’t take me to the [2007 World Series victory] parade,” she said. She was 5 at the time. “His excuse is that it was raining. But he took us to [Obama’s second] inauguration when it was 8 degrees.”
Harry Smith, a Little League coach and a community organizer from Jamaica Plain, is trying to exploit his daughter’s interest, using late-night viewing rights as a bargaining chip. “For about a week I’ll have influence over her,” he said.
As negotiation expert Gregory Barron points out, giving in early — even for concessions — erodes a parent’s position for future games.
“The outcome of each negotiation sets up the next negotiation,” said Barron, a director with Lax Sebenius, a Concord negotiation firm. “I would be hesitant to reach any agreement that doesn’t cover the entire series.”
Nor should parents allow themselves to get sucked in by their children’s innocent faces.
“Children are very sensitive to what your triggers are,” warned Barron, a former assistant professor of negotiation at Harvard Business School. “They learn very quickly what you really care about, not what you say you care about, which is what we train people to do as negotiators later in life.”
Despite what kids may think, mom and dad are really just the middlemen, forced to deal with a situation — game start times of around 8 p.m. — over which they have no control. That decision is made by Major League Baseball, with input from Fox Sports, which is broadcasting the Series.
Parents may rage against the league — if they want to keep young fans, the argument goes, they would make it earlier so kids could see the series — but MLB has bigger concerns.
“You have to try and hit that window of opportunity where it’s going to be the best-case scenario for the entire country,” MLB spokesman Matt Bourne said. “Time and time again, the data has shown that starting in prime time [on the East Coast] is optimal in terms of reaching the most people.”
When the league did start a game earlier — Game 3 of the 2010 World Series began at 6:54 p.m. Eastern Time — the ratings were the lowest of the series between the Texas Rangers and the San Francisco Giants, Bourne said. It was also the lowest-rated among teenagers of any World Series game as far back as data go.
If it is any consolation to parents who could be facing five more games, in 2007 and 2008, the first pitch was thrown out around 8:30 p.m., compared with closer to 8 p.m. for this series. It turns out games starting that late turn off the non-diehards, said Fox Sports spokesman Lou D’Ermilio.
“The feeling was that at 11, when the more casual viewer flips on the game, if it was only in the seventh inning [as opposed to the eighth] it was too much of an investment to watch to the end,” he said. “So FOX and MLB decided it would be best to start earlier.”
Even when the Sox aren’t in the World Series, many kids don’t get enough sleep. Teens need about nine hours, and tweens and pre-tweens closer to 10, said Dennis Rosen, associate medical director of the Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Boston Children’s Hospital and author of “Successful Sleep Strategies for Kids.”
But how bad is it, really, for kids to stay up late? In the short term, Rosen said, sleep loss can lead to crankiness and a diminished ability to absorb information or perform at school or in sports. As for problems in the long run? “If it’s just a few nights,” he said, “there are probably none.”
That is good news for parents, many of whom are conflicted about enforcing the very laws they have set down. As Schumacher, the Newton dad, put it: “The best moments we have are through baseball.”