Analysis. History. Perspective.

Sports Then and Now

Can Baseball Hook The Next Generation of Fans?

Posted on June 14, 2010 by Alex Rendon

Is baseball still America's favorite pasttime for young fans?

My favorite sport has been disparaged, criticized and unjustly hated on ever since the 1994 strike initiated the decline of baseball into an exclusively older man’s game—the new fly fishing, if you will.

The sport lacked the caché of football, lacked the flair of basketball and more recently, lacks the recurring Renaissance that soccer experiences when Americans are patriotically aroused by the notion that we’re actually pretty decent at soccer—a sport typically associated with Europe and Latin America.

Baseball is routinely cast aside as a fading sport, no longer America’s pastime, and a sport more apt to be found on television screens in old folks’ homes than sports bars.

With a resounding smack into Pudge Rodriguez’s catcher’s mitt—courtesy of Stephen Strasburg’s 101 mph gas—that’s all changed.

The game is undergoing a drastic makeover: Think David Gest suddenly waking up one morning and looking like Taylor Lautner.

No longer is baseball associated with men who look dangerously close to popping. The younger stars of today—Strasburg, Jason Heyward, Ike Davis, etc., are revered because they are talented at baseball, not necessarily because their pecs are listed on Moh’s.

The game is “smart” now. With statistics being kept that would make Newton blush, baseball is increasingly becoming a technical game, a refreshing change from the “me-smash-ball-try-dismember-22-year-old-sitting-three-rows-up” game from the late ’90s and early 2000s.

You’d think that the lack of power hitting would render baseball less interesting than a Golden Girls marathon.

The exact opposite has happened.

Young players like Stephen Strasburg will be crucial if baseball is going to grow in popularity in a post-steroid era.

The fervent crowd at Strasburg’s game notwithstanding, baseball games have been getting more interesting—a product of it exiting the “Steroid Era” and the playing field leveling.

Besides the notion that the competition is evening out, baseball players are actually beginning to look more like professional athletes.

Ubaldo Jiménez looks like he was engineered by Stark Industries. Ryan Howard probably could double as a formidable power forward on the 76ers. And Albert Pujols can barely fool Steve Levy and John Anderson into believing that he is not, in fact, a machine.

This unprecedented surge for baseball is not going to end anytime soon, Aroldis Chapman and Bryce Harper will make sure of that.

But it will take time for baseball to re-establish its presence in America’s youth and America’s youthful adults—the principle demographics that the sport has struggled to maintain over the last few years.

Luckily, for baseball to retain its popularity, it’s not going to take some overly anxious high school coach teaching “Mr. Teen MetRx 2016” what to do with a bat.

For the trend to continue to subsist, all it’s going to take is more legitimate baseball talent and current, established baseball minds to guide that talent. The people in baseball will take care of themselves, but the sport itself also has to evolve.

Not to keep going back to the justifiable institution of instant replay but it has to happen, Bud Selig, or you will continue to be the party-pooper in power. David Stern and Roger Goodell will continue to wonder “Why do we even hang out with this guy?”

Also, not to keep going back to Jim Joyce, but Bud Selig owes this guy an apology. The flack he’s been getting is a product of a stagnant game. I will now forever refrain from using Jim Joyce for the millionth time as the reason that baseball needs replay.

The game is going to be OK. I’m certain of it. I mean, people are even beginning to show up to Marlins’ games.

Baseball won’t become the most popular sport in America again, but it doesn’t need to be. It will, however, be as respected as it was in the past very soon.

Football is littered with less-than-reputable activity (culminating in Seattle’s Golden Tate’s heinous Maple Bar incident) while baseball is starting to atone for its own missteps.

In a few years’ time, people won’t even care about the names Canseco, Clemens and Bonds. The record books will soon be re-written—asterisk free.

With the exception of an unfortunate call by Jim Joyce (OK, I had to).

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