Baseball's decline in American culture is not a product of the game's perceived flaws, but that of a changing culture that no longer understands it's greatness. In a culture, that demands faster paced action with more and more egotistical stars masquerading as "team players", baseball is the ultimate teaching tool for strategy, humility, perseverance and most of all, patience. Now we could have a long article about baseball as a thinking man's sport and how all others are just sports-porn, but let's focus on the only real aspect that matters. How does a sport relate to kids?
Youth baseball is a coming of age story for many young kids across the country. Outside of soccer (which is mainly there to teach motor coordination... and it's easy), baseball was a staple of what America used to value and wanted to instill in its children. No other sport affects children in the way baseball does. There is something magical about your first ball-game at a pro stadium. Seeing the sun set behind a curtain of lights high above the stadium; the smell of fresh cut grass; the sound of baseball hitting perfectly formed leather. It's spiritual and unlike anything else.
In football, the names get lost in a sea of mangled mess and schemes to the point where players desperate for recognition, act out after a good play. The highlight on ESPN that night, isn't so much the tackle or catch, but the unnecessary performance afterwards. In basketball it's more of the same as the sport has transformed from 5 players playing as a unit to 1 or 2 taking over the game, but the depth is so weak and underdeveloped.
Baseball on the other hand is at a pace you can take in and time enough to explain to your kids. If they have a question, you can respond in detail before the next pitch or inning, instead of just saying, "just because" out of fear of missing the next play. And most important of all, baseball doesn't shield it's players from the fans.
Name one other sport where fans have such incredible access to players before, during and after games? Oh sure, in basketball you get the occasional form tackle by a player who just crushed your kid or wife, spilling your $8 beer and other concession items, while the sweat of the player lingers on your and your clothes for the next two hours and you are all the happier for the experience. Or even at the end of the game, when the player decides to fling his sweaty headband, jersey, shoes, etc into the stands as a memento for all the little kids in attendance.
But baseball, its autographs and selfies with players before the game while you watch BP. How players come up for long periods of time to sign autographs and have conversations with fans. Before the game you can go all the way down to field level no matter where you seat actually is. Baseball consistently fills the stands with souvenirs with foul balls, home runs and the occasional 3rd out toss into the stands to a young boy who just had his life made. Oh sure Cam Newton is on a one man crusade to change football's stigma of not allowing fans to take home a souvenir that sporadically misses the FG net on a kicking try, but outside of that, it's still not even close.
The traditions, gentlemanly nature and virtue of baseball don't just stop with the pro-level. They are understood by 99% of all baseball players and they act accordingly. Good game or bad, baseball players know that the fan is the most important part of the whole sporting experience. Not just in revenue generation, but the the inspiration that comes from the time spent with kids.
Baseball has stories upon stories of players reaching out to fans. Whether it's Jeff Francoeur buying pizza for his hecklers, or Javier Bracamonte giving away his gear after the Astros were eliminated from the playoffs last year, you'll never find a more fan engaged sport than baseball. And no matter what viewership ratings say, it's not even close.
Texas Tech's own Stephen Smith understands that making a kids day is far greater than sweeping a Big 12 opponent, and he pays forward that which probably inspired him when he was younger just learning to love baseball. With Tech now 5-1 in conference play and red hot overall, it very well may come down to it, that Tech Baseball is the best Texas Tech sport of the big 3 in 2016. With continued success Tech baseball and it's players will inspire young boys and girls to one day take their place on the field and continue baseball's tradition themselves.
Like most great things, baseball doesn't need to get with the times, the times need to appreciate the timelessness and greatness that is baseball, and let that be enough.
Texas Tech opens a 2 game series with UNLV tonight! Wreckem!