I have talked a lot about the appeal of baseball to disparate audiences on this blog. We know for a fact that many minorities would probably try baseball if they had the choice, and even girls (who love the sport) would want a shot at it. Right now, baseball is making a ton of money and also spending a ton of money on just players (the Cubs payroll rising to a new franchise record being one of many indicators that the sport is healthy), so economically, the sport is fine.
On some days, I keep thinking back to a Star Trek: Deep Space Nine character named Buck Bokai, who represented one of the Star Trek universe’s last great baseball players. You see, we’re less than 30 years away from the end of baseball as the creators of that show envisioned it:
Bokai remained with the Kings throughout his career, until 2042, when the team made it to the final World Series. With the decline of the sport, only 300 spectators attended the last game of the series, which was won through a home run, hit by Bokai. Even though he thought he could have lasted five more years, Bokai retired from baseball soon after the series. (DS9: “If Wishes Were Horses“)
That’s a very depressing thought, that one of our favorite sports would die out so quickly after it appears to have reached its peak in this era, in a world where a player like Bryce Harper can float a $400MM contract without it being completely ludicrous. It also stirs a fear within me that the television bubble may burst before the Cubs get a chance to cash in, since their current shattered-universe TV deal doesn’t end until 2019. I know the money guys in the Cubs business division realize this and are working to make sure they get something, but it is kind of a scary thought; it’s probably even more dire than the Cubs running out of good prospects. But this really isn’t about the money; the sport of baseball has to continue to appeal to people so that they will continue to spend money and sustain the game for years to come. And more than anyone else, the sport has to appeal to youths, because they are the ones who will take over in sustaining baseball long after we are gone.
As the Cubs continue their Cactus League “struggles” (seriously, who cares that they’re only 3-and-whatever right now), I know of many friends and acquaintances who have already gone or are making plans to go to Arizona with their young ones to enjoy the weather and some relaxing baseball action. Baseball, after all, is supposed to be fun, especially during spring training when the pressure is off for all the relevant players. I admit that I am jealous that I have neither the time nor the disposable income right now to check out Sloan Park and the other fine facilities with my own family, but I do hope that I can take them someday soon. The trick is to make sure the sport sustains so that my son can take HIS children someday, too. It doesn’t really help that Wrigley Field and Wrigleyville aren’t actually that fun right now for the family outside of the baseball action, but I hope to work on other ways to keep my son interested…and I guess it’s okay if he isn’t as big of a fan as I am, even if it does sadden me that we won’t have a similar affection for the game.
I think one method to keep kids interested is to have fun, dynamic baseball players to entertain them. Guys like Bryce Harper might rub some folks the wrong way, but as Cubs manager Joe Maddon says, that nonsense just needs to stop. Baseball is ultimately an entertainment option, and if it’s not entertaining, then people are just going to stop spending their money on it. Baseball lags in popularity among all sports when it comes to attracting young fans, and as Sam Fels at Cubs Den says:
You know when baseball looks the coolest? The All-Star game. When players are allowed to wear white cleats, bright wrist-bands or neon chest protectors. It actually looks a bit modernized. If baseball were smart and really serious about making t look more appealing to younger fans, it would allow this all the time. Only the NFL can get away with it’s militant uniform policies, and those policies aren’t why football is king. Seems like every other sport learns the wrong lessons from the NFL’s dominance.
MLB needs to let guys let it all hang out. Sure, there’s some worry about angering guys who are hurling a rock at 95 MPH in the general vicinity of people’s heads, but everyone should get over it. It’s such a long season that takes place pretty much every single day. Wouldn’t it pop a little more with a few more memorable moments highlighted by individuality. Hell, how many highlights are on Deadspin throughout the NBA season of just Steph Curry’s teammates celebrating his shots before they go in? Seems like once a week. Baseball could sure do with that exposure.
I love bat flips and the emotions that players show when they know they have given their team a chance to win. I want to continue to see that youthful exuberance in the major leaguers as I see on my own high school’s baseball squad when a player makes a great play or hits an unexpected home run. Kids will be kids, and baseball is at its core just a kid’s game. At the end of the contest, we still line up, shake hands, say “good game,” and have no hard feelings despite all the cheering and occasional pimping of a big hit. If kids can do it, then I don’t see why professionals can’t have enough maturity to understand that it’s just a thing and not a sign of disrespect.
I hope to see more kids come to ball parks and have fun because they see their sports heroes having fun too. I want to see the fun continue far past the days of Buck Bokai. But I agree with everyone that the first thing we have to do is disband the Fun Police, because they are no fun at all.