Monday, February 27, 2012

Not Going Anywhere

This is an open letter to my friend Ben.  Ben and I have a long ongoing argument over whether baseball will eventually become a niche (pronounced nitch, you posers) sport, equivalent to soccer, or less even.  He’s a baseball fan, but believes it’s only surviving because going to the ballpark is a quaint American tradition and it’ll start to die out.  This, therefore, is my manifesto on why baseball will continue to remain relevant in this country for many years to come, whether it ever overtakes football.
            My first argument is that baseball is a truly American sport, and as easy as it is for every part of the world to be connected these days, Americans still want to have something they’ve contributed to the current zeitgeist.  Other countries are quickly catching up to us in terms of economic and military strength, but having the top tier of a truly global sport based in our country makes us proud and will continue to have us coming back to it for generations to come.  England has the highest tier of soccer, as small a country as they are, but baseball has its roots and current highest form here, and I don’t think America will let that go soon.
            Along with that fact is that it is a truly global sport.  We have baseball, basketball, and hockey, truly global sports that were invented and currently have their highest leagues here.  (As far as hockey, let me explain- yes, Canada will claim it’s their sport, but as the most powerful country in North America, we get at least half the credit for the NHL.  And while we’re at it, let’s tally up the score.  Canada: current Olympic gold medal champ.  America: Current Stanley Cup winner [over a Canadian team], Stanley Cup favorite [Detroit, from what I gather- also the biggest hockey hub on the continent], and four of the Original Six teams.  Good game, Canada.)  As a global sport, we know it’s one that will stick around, because as more and more immigrants come to this country, as is the current trend, they will bring with them a love and passion for the game that will reinvigorate that of the current population.  (Yes, soccer is a major force to reckon with in the future, but being that there are whole countries in the Americas that worship baseball over soccer- DR, Venezuela, etc., plus Japan across the way- I have faith the sport will hold its own.)
            The sport is doing everything right to promote its growth in those areas in which it’s lagging- the RBI program, the World Baseball Classic and others are making it accessible (as if the game itself had to be more so) to minorities and youth.  Teams like the Twins are giving live Twitter feeds of those at the game to other fans.  Advanced stats are making it ever easier to identify talent and bringing a new side of the game to those seeking to get deeper into it.  And they’re probably going to expand the playoffs, giving us more postseason, and making more of the regular season relevant.  But in addition to the playoffs is something no other sport really has any answer to: Spring Training.  It’s the most extensive and concentrated preseason of any of the four major sports, and it brims with hope and enthusiasm for all who attend. 
            But baseball’s greatest strength lies in the infrastructure that’s in place right now.  The other week, I was looking at the FA structure of English soccer.  To summarize, they have promotion and relegation of teams for their finish in their respective leagues.  But besides the Premier and the four major leagues below that, there are Twenty Seven levels of leagues in the country.  Each one of these levels below the top six or seven have about twenty to thirty leagues, which themselves have twelve to fifteen teams.  I came to the conclusion that probably everyone in the country plays on some team in this system.  But in that same vein, baseball is set up so that more people in this country than you’d even realize are playing minor league baseball.  I do think that baseball should even consider creating a promotion/relegation system of their own.  It could be done, with a little patience and aid from the big boys.  But as it stands, major and minor league teams in American have developed keen connections between themselves through the farm team system and simply its extension throughout the US and Canada.  Every major town in this country has a baseball team at some level. Most of those have some major league affiliate and this often cultivates an affinity in that area for said team, most notably with Iowa and the Cubs, but also with say, Durham, NC and the Braves.  My dad and bro even said they went to a Twins game at the dome a few years back where they met some fans from Rochester, NY (home of the Red Wings) who just came to see what all their favorite players were up to.
            My final argument has got to be the weather.  This whole global climate change thing is probably going to make our country a generally warmer place, and as it stands, baseball is the last truly warm-weather sport in America.  Basketball and hockey have taken their places and football is a cold-weather sport that simply can be played in warm weather.  I don’t think this will play a huge role, but sports fans will always need a major sport (shut up, NASCAR) that can be enjoyed in the summer and that they feel they have a connection with from a long way back, or at least some other valid reason for rooting for their team in.  

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