By Shin Williams
It’s the start of yet another season for baseball fans. And as the biggest sport in the nation gears up for another year of winning (the Royals), losing (the Phillies), rumors, injuries, and everything in between, it’ll be more of the same for the fans. The vendors chanting in the stands, yelling “Hot dogs, hot dogs, getcha hot dogs here!,” the grounds crew dancing on the field in between innings, and announcers singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh inning stretch. And yet, for all its beauty, the game of baseball is seen by many as on the decline.
Slowly but surely, baseball has become less and less popular over the years. Less people than ever watched the World Series last year and baseball has fallen to third in youth participation behind basketball and soccer. As recently as the early 80s, baseball was the most popular sport across America. Now, it is a mere second behind American football.
Baseball is unlike most other sports we Americans prefer and perhaps that’s the reason for its decline. Baseball is purely a read-and-react sport, contrasting the much-loved sports of football and basketball, where coaches spend hours working on teaching and implementing scripted plays into the framework of their practices. This only highlights the growing want for entertainment in sports by the American public, even if it means the sacrifice of some unpredictable nature of the game. Look at WWE. Fans lap up Vince McMahon’s fake (shhhh…. it’s a secret) wrestling content knowingly, but since the wrestlers put on a good show, it doesn’t matter.
Fans want a good story. In football and basketball, players go straight from college to the pros. You’ll read headlines about “Rookie Jameis Winston adjusting to NFL life” or about “College no-name Antonio Brown now tops the NFL world.” Fans can follow the story of their favorite small-town player all the way to the big time. Collegiate baseball players, on the other hand, go to the black hole of the minor leagues for a few years before getting “called up” to the big leagues and are often forgotten about entirely. Fans want entertainment. Fans want a story. And they’ll continue to pour money into the sports that provide that.
Baseball is particularly unpopular at OES. Not only does the school not have a baseball team, but our AD Kris “Hatch” VanHatcher once swore that “OES won’t have a baseball team as long as I’m around.” Further complicating the issue, the immense popularity of lacrosse and soccer prevents most other sports from widespread popularity. On the subject of baseball, the opinion of most students is clear-cut.
“It’s very boring,” Alex F. said. “Nine innings long, that’s too long. Nobody does anything.”
“Games take like five hours,” adds Colin B. “Compared to football, it’s just not as exciting.”
As a baseball enthusiast and player myself, it pains me to see such a low opinion of the sport I love, especially since OES has enjoyed a fair amount of baseball talent, including former Dig stalwart Liam W. ’15. But all the same, Portland simply isn’t a baseball city, and in a larger sense, the Pacific Northwest isn’t exactly a hotbed for baseball fandom either. The Portland Beavers, a minor league team of the San Diego Padres, moved out of Portland in 2010, clearing the way for the super-popular Timbers at Providence Park. There are a couple of Seattle Mariners fans in Portland, a few San Francisco Giants fans and the like, but all in all, Portland isn’t the sort of place that has kids hunched around a radio late at night, listening to the bottom of the ninth. It’s not in the Portland culture.
All the same, the game of baseball is something anyone can come together around, and Opening Day is a reminder of that. No who you are or where you come from, it’s still our national pastime. And in times like these, when the world seeks to divide us by race, gender, political affiliation, or anything else, baseball still brings us together, and that’s something we can all appreciate.
Let’s Play Ball!