America’s Pastime Lives On

Professional baseball has been played in United States since the late 1800’s. Some of America’s most recognizable names and personalities – Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Hank Aaron, Pete Rose, Mike Trout – have all left their mark on American history with their play on the diamond. In a day and age where there are more networks and analysts dissecting the game than ever before, there are also more ways to watch and learn about baseball than ever before. So the notion that baseball is a “dying” sport simply is not the case. In the words of Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter used in a commercial he did earlier this year promoting THIS year in Major League Baseball, “The game is being played better than it ever has in the history of it. These are the good ole days.”

The easiest way to show baseball is still alive and well is through stadium attendance. Between the years of 2010 and 2014, over 368 million people watched a regular season game at a Major League baseball stadium (Ballparks of baseball). Attendance at MLB stadiums grew each year from 2010 through 2013 before taking a slight dip last year. This year, however, attendance is back up, with projections showing that well over 74 million spectators will attend an MLB game.

This growth in baseball attendance isn’t evident just in MLB stadiums; it’s evident in college baseball stadiums as well, specifically right here in Morgantown, West Virginia. West Virginia University and its baseball team opened up a brand new stadium this past season, Monongalia County Ballpark, a stadium that was appropriately opened in dramatic fashion as WVU outlasted Butler 6-5 in 13 innings. Over 32,000 Mountaineer fans watched the WVU baseball team this year. Mon. County Ballpark was voted Ballpark of the Year for 2015 by BaseballParks.com.

Not only did the Mountaineers call Monongalia County Ballpark home this year, so have the West Virginia Black Bears, the Class A short season affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Morgantown residents have had even more of a chance to, not only see the brand new and beautiful ballpark, but to see home baseball games played by two different organizations. And they have taken advantage of the new opportunity to see the new team. Around 86,000 people have seen the Black Bears play at home this season.

With the addition of the Black Bears, the people of Morgantown and the surrounding area will have plenty of baseball to watch during the spring and summer, and should keep in mind that every time either the Mountaineers or the Black Bears take the field, they are watching young players who could make it to the major leagues one day.

Speaking of young players, probably the biggest reason attendance is up across the board in the MLB is due to the current “youth movement” in the majors. Seemingly every team has at least one player under the age of 26 years old who is being looked at by the organization to lead the team moving forward in years to come. Trout, the Los Angeles Angels young slugger, may be only 24 years old, but he is already the face of baseball in America. He is arguably the best player in the MLB, and he hasn’t even reached his prime yet. But Trout isn’t the only great young player in the majors. The Cubs Kris Bryant (23), Nationals Bryce Harper (22), Orioles Manny Machado (23) and Dodgers Joc Pederson (23) were among the players that played in this year’s All-Star game. For Bryant and Pederson, they both made the National League All-Star roster this year in their first full season in the big leagues, and despite being very young, Harper, Machado and Trout have become regulars in baseball’s Mid Summer Classic.

If you’re wondering why Trout is the face of baseball, this is why. He won the Rookie of the Year Award in 2012, won the American League MVP Award last year in just his third season in the league, and has won the Silver Slugger Award each of the last three seasons. He is also a four-time All-Star with an impressive .304 career batting average. In short, he’s a five-tool player that does it all for his team, and plays the game the way it was meant to be played.

Playing the game the way it’s meant to be played includes many nuances. Playing to win, doing all the little things, playing with a smile on your face, being a role model for children, and of course not cheating. That last one has been a problem in recent history. Baseball is now in the post-Steroid-Era era. Everybody loves the long ball. The home run is what puts the fans in the seats. Baseball fans got the longest looks at the some of the longest home runs in MLB history during the late 80’s, throughout 90’s, and early 2000’s, a time period which is better known as the Steroid Era. The home run race between Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire in 1998 captured the entire nation, but it was fueled by steroids. Once fans realized all the cheating that was going on in the game, baseball lost some of its fans. Now that the game is cleaner, most of those fans are returning.

Not only have the players changed, but the league as a whole is trying to change. The MLB has made rule changes trying to keep fans interested in the game. The average MLB game takes just as long as the average NFL games as far as time goes (about three hours), which is between a half hour to an hour shorter than most college football games take to finish. The difference is there is more time in between plays in baseball than there is in football. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has implemented some rules that have shortened the game a little bit. There are now only two minutes in between innings, batters have to stay in the batters box more than they used to, and there are a few other small rule changes. All these rules were put in place in attempt to keep the game moving and to keep fans’ attention while watching the game either at home or at the ballpark.

I went to five professional baseball games this summer, seeing games in Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and New York. To be completely honest, a game always seems to move at a faster pace when you’re in attendance compared to when you’re watching it on TV no matter what sport it is, but baseball games have seemed to move a little quicker this year compared to games played in years’ past.

In other words, the rules are working. The games are moving along faster, which, at least in theory, keeps the attention of the common fan longer and helps the common fan become a true baseball fan.

I believe that two other factors argue how baseball isn’t nearing its end. One of them is the fact that different teams are having success. People get tired of the same team’s doing well all the time, i.e. the New York Yankees. Over the past few seasons people have really jumped on the Kansas City Royals bandwagon. Also Baltimore and Pittsburgh have done well recently for the first time in years. In 2012, the Baltimore Orioles made the playoffs for the first time since 1997, and they returned to the postseason last year. The Pittsburgh Pirates have made the playoffs the last two years after not reaching the postseason since 1992. The St. Louis has been good for a while, but they play in a small market, so they don’t get nearly as much national coverage as large-market teams do, which makes it hard not to like them.

This year the Houston Astros and New York Mets, two teams that haven’t had much success over the last decade or so, are both currently in position to make the playoffs, and have decent chances at making it to the World Series. Also, because of all the young players in the league, it seems that they (the young players) have kind of evened the playing field. Look no further than the Astros and the Mets for that. The Astros have good young players in Jose Altuve, George Springer, and Carlos Correa who have helped the team take and keep the lead in the American League West division. Meanwhile, the Mets have bolstered their pitching rotation with young talent in players like Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Matt Harvey, all of whom are under the age of 28, and they are the leaders in the National League East division.

These young players all had to take someone’s spot. In most cases they are looked at as the next generation for an organization. They are bridging the gap between the history and the future of a team. The history they are trying to become a part of, in this case, is the role of a Hall of Fame player. Players that current college students watched when they were young children have retired and are now becoming eligible for the Hall of Fame. A lot of today’s college students grew up watching Ken Griffey Jr., Greg Maddux, Craig Biggio, and Mike Piazza. That means it’s time to pick a new favorite player. And with all of the young talent in baseball, there are plenty of good players to chose from who are going to be playing for a long time.

Baseball is a great game. It teaches both its players and its fans to deal with failure. Think, a successful season for a batter is defined as being successful 3 out-of 10 times at bat – a .300 batting average. In the best season since 1900, Nap Lajoie was successful just over 4 out-of 10 times (.4265). Baseball also gives people a relief. Following the September 11 attacks in 2001, the state of New York rallied behind the Yankees and Mets more than ever before, and citizens of Massachusetts rallied behind the Boston Red Sox and the slogan “Boston Strong” following the tragic Boston Marathon Bombing. Baseball isn’t dying; it’s getting better and reaching more people today than ever before. Baseball isn’t dying; it’s thriving.

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