March 29th of this year was the opening day for Major League Baseball. Historically, a day celebrated across the United States by fans eager to witness the throwing out of the much celebrated first pitch. Fifty-plus years ago, almost every household had the game on the radio or would be gathered in front of the black and white television set rooting for their favorite team. As a kid growing up in the 1950s, I remember my Grandfather taking my brother and I out to the old Seal Stadium in San Francisco to watch the Giants. We would find our seats in the bleachers just in time for batting practice and the occasional Home Run Derby. Back in those days, the players appeared larger than life and would take the time to connect with the fans when time allowed. Players such as Willie Mays, Willy McCovey, and all the Alou brothers responded when their names were hollered out and would toss a ball into the stands to any kid with a glove. Opposing players would also take part in the revelry. In one instance, I can remember how Roberto Clemente of the Pittsburg Pirates shagged balls and would immediately toss them into the stands. That was good stuff. So, what is changed over the years that knocked baseball from the pedestal of sports in America?
Unfortunately, the game of baseball has taken a backseat to a wide variety of sports. Football is now considered America’s Game because of great marketing over the years. Super Bowl Sunday has replaced the World Series as the most watched event. Basketball received a boost in the seventies after nearly falling off the map. Another entry into sports that has affected baseball is soccer. Prior to the seventies, the game of soccer was basically nonexistent in the United States. That changed when Lamar Hunt and Kyle Rote Jr. introduced indoor soccer to the public featuring the great Pele’. The game caught on quickly as it was fast-moving and required skills that were not traditional at the time. Factoring in the migrant communities from Europe, Latin America, and Africa made soccer a boon. Another growth spurt in sports is now the X Games. Motocross, bike racing, and skateboarding has become extremely popular. Lastly, factor in PlayStation and Xbox and a noticeable change in the pecking order of sports has changed even further.
So, how does baseball regain a foothold on fan participation? For starters, the game has initiated changes in how the game will be played. Major League Baseball has implemented “instant replay” to resolve strike zone disputes. To speed up the game, they have limited mound visits by the manager and implemented a pitch clock on the pitcher. And for the fans watching on television, baseball has beefed up the technology. The networks, in conjunction with the League, have upgraded what is being broadcast on the small screen. Better graphics, higher resolutions, and audio enhancement bring the viewer into the ballpark.
I personally like the changes and anticipate spending more time engaged in America’s Pastime. I’ll grab a drink, a hotdog and settle in to my seat eagerly awaiting the famous phrase, “Play Ball.”