A game for the ages was played on Wednesday night, the type of game baseball fans live for. Game seven of the 2016 World Series had everything die-hard baseball fans love, two franchises that haven’t taken home the title in forever, home runs, comebacks and extra innings. As a fan of the game I know that those who were lucky enough to see the whole thing will probably remember it forever. I wasn’t lucky enough to see the whole game. Oh, I tried to see the whole game, but I couldn’t stay awake.
I grew up playing baseball. My glove was my father’s worn old catcher mitt, and my bat was hand crafted out of ash by a friend of the family. I loved my bat. I knew where its sweet spot was and when it would make contact with the ball, I knew if I had a good hit simply by the way it sounded. It had a sharp, loud crack when hit just right.
I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s, a time when girls were not allowed to play in Little League. Despite that, I played a lot of baseball with my brother, my cousins and our neighbors. Most of the games were played on a baseball field that one of our neighbors built behind his house. It had real bases, a pitcher’s mound, a batter’s box and a wooden scoreboard. It was awesome. In 5th grade, after pitching a ball to one of the neighbor boys, I caught the ball with my right eye. It was swollen shut and black and blue for weeks. I still have a yellow spot on the white of that eye as a reminder.
Baseball was part of our lives. When the World Series would roll around, we would watch, glued to the televisions. Back then the World Series was televised during the day; while we were in school. But that wasn’t a problem. The teachers would gather all of the students, grades one through six, into the gym or split us up into various classrooms where we’d watch the games on black and white televisions that were perched on gray audio-visual carts. If we were in the gym, there would be three or four televisions stationed around the room and we’d all pile around them, sitting on the floor. If the game wasn’t over by the time the school day was, we’d continue to listen to it on our transistor radios during the bus ride home. Baseball was important to us. We played it; we watched it; little boys wanted to grow up to be ball players.
Over the years, I’ve watched American youth become less interested in baseball. Such a decline in the love of the game can probably be attributed to many things, including that youth today have so many options, including other sports to participate in such as soccer and football. Youth also have a much larger selection of things to watch, whether on television or online. When I was a kid, we only had three t.v. channels. Kids today have a lot more options in their lives, I get it.
What I don’t get is why Major League Baseball (MLB) doesn’t do more to cultivate a love of baseball among today’s youth, particularly when ratings show that 50% of all baseball viewers are over the age of 55. MLB needs to recruit not just young players of the game, but young fans of the game and an easy way to do that would be to start broadcasting the World Series during daylight hours. Instead, it seems as if MLB has partnered with television networks in an effort to generate as much revenue as possible by airing the big games in the evening. Because the largest audience possible is in the evening, networks are able to charge a premium for said advertising.
But here’s the problem with that way of thinking. The largest audience possible is not necessarily the best audience possible. Those 55 year-old plus baseball lovers will find a way to watch a World Series game, whenever it is broadcast. Those that aren’t baseball lovers aren’t going to watch it any way. Although viewership was up for the World Series this year (it even beat out football on Sunday night which is practically unheard of), viewership as a whole has been on the decline for decades. Just like kids today have more options available to them, so do adults; no longer are there only three television channels from which to choose.
It seems to me that to get lifelong fans of the sport, you have to start recruiting the youngsters. Player recruitment for baseball players begins at a young age; most professional baseball players began their careers in Little League, which is supported by MLB. But if the World Series was played during the day, when those Little Leaguers could actually see the game, it might keep their passion for the game alive into adulthood, even if they’re never good enough to be a professional ball player. Because let’s face it, most kids don’t grow up to play MLB. Most kids grow up to be fans, and fans, just like players, need to be recruited.
“…the single biggest predictor of avidity in sports is whether you played as a kid.” Rob Manfred, MLB Commissioner
Those future fans are key to the survival of baseball and their love of the game must be cultivated or they won’t watch the games when they grow up because like most working people, they’ll be asleep long before the game is over. Congrats Cubs, wish I could’ve seen it.
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