America’s Changing Pastime

Apr 9, 2018


Commentary: America has a long and storied relationship with the game of baseball. Books have been written about it. Movies have been made about it. Fathers and grandfathers pass down stories to the young about it. A kind of spiritual connection has existed with this game for many generations.

At this time of year, cities that have been buried in snow emerge from hibernation as miracle-working groundskeepers create green fields from icy wastelands. Fans emerge from the doldrums of boring grey skies and dream again of warm summer days under blazing sun with cold beverage in hand. A virtual paradise from the depths of winter despair.

In many ways, baseball has contributed to our national sanity. Instead of being buried by weighty matters of the national state such as world conflicts, how to pay for government, and other inconvenient responsibilities, one’s thoughts can drift to having fun outside in nice weather while yelling at the umpire. Baseball has been a great safety-valve for a complex nation that really needs one.

But the game of baseball has changed greatly over time. Huge sums of money are now made by major leaguers and is paid out by networks for broadcasting rights. Players aren’t the neighborhood guys they used to be who looked a little like you and made about as much money as you did. Ballparks are now mini-amusement parks either in an upscale urban setting or out in the sleepy suburbs.

Young people don’t pick up a bat or glove much today because their hands are full with smartphones and joysticks. If you get a young person into the ballpark, most likely they’ll spend all their time looking down at their hands and not at the game going on right in front of them.

America has lost that mystical connection to this sport. For many, this game seems suited to times long ago. There still can be the excitement of a great pitchers duel or wild slugfest of runs or a September pennant race. But those times are getting rare. And honestly, there is a great deal of dull and slow-play to endure before you’ll see any of that excitement.

Hockey has wall-to-wall action with skaters flying around rinks and goalies doing acrobatic saves. Basketball has wild athleticism of the players draining long three-pointers or making thunderous dunks. There is always the nonstop drum beat of football playing in the background. And there is the emerging popularity of world football known as soccer.

We are told, for everything there is a season. Baseball has had its special season. It was on top for a long time. But no more. Baseball will not disappear. There will still be boys and girls going out to the park armed with bats and gloves trying to master this difficult sport. There will still be a steady stream of hopefuls trying to stake their claim to the bonanza of money to be made. But baseball has a new place in the sports world as a niche sport. It is now just one sport among many. And it no longer portrays the look or consciousness of the nation as it used to. We have found others safety-valves.

As humans, we need spiritual connections. And, not just to really big things like the meaning of life. We need spiritual connections to simpler things. Baseball has served that capacity. For some, this will continue. For many others in our new times, they have moved on to something else.

Thank you - baseball - for what you have given to us. You’ll always be part of our American family. We just let you take off that heavy responsibility of being one of our big reasons for living. Some may score you a passed ball or strike out. But there will always be times when a diamond can be your best friend.