With The Health Of The Game In Question, Baseball Must Act To Remain Our National Pastime

baseball-300x238If plans move forward, baseball-loving children in the Town of Barnstable could soon be living out their backyard dreams to play in the shadow of the Green Monster. The Barnstable Little League is working to construct a replica of the historic home of the Boston Red Sox, where young ballplayers ages 6-8 will, hopefully, fall in love with baseball. This is a fabulous idea, but I have to wonder how many kids will eventually take the field at the new Mini-Fenway.

For the first time in generations, children in cities and towns across America are abandoning the National Pastime. This comes as Major League Baseball is experiencing unprecedented financial success. Revenue is at an all-time high, attendance is strong at most big league ballparks around the country, and player contracts are through the roof. But make no mistake about it, the financial health of the game is not a reflection of the overall health of the sport in the United States.

Youth participation in baseball is down dramatically, with an astonishing 3.5 million kids leaving the game since the turn of the century, according to the Wall Street Journal. There is now an entire generation of Americans that don’t love baseball the way we did, our parents did, and our grandparents did.

It doesn’t seem possible, but it’s true.

We live in an era where technology makes seemingly everything and anything accessible, but baseball has failed to make itself available to the next generation of fans. The next time you go to Fenway Park, look around. How many kids do you see? The answer is not enough. The Red Sox, with their highest ticket prices in the game, are not accessible to families. Bleacher seats are approaching $30, Fenway Franks are over $5, parking is $50 (oh, you might get blocked in, too). No other sport’s live fan experience compares to baseball’s; the crack of the bat, the chatter of the crowd, the seventh-inning stretch, but that experience is out of reach for too many kids that could grow up to love baseball if they were just given the chance to.

Major League Baseball has a responsibility to protect the health of the game. New commissioner Rob Manfred, thankfully, realizes this. Youth participation, Manfred said upon taking office last year, would be his number one priority. But to truly address what ails the game, the 30 owners that employ Manfred will have to be willing to make small financial sacrifices for the betterment of the sport. Not only does attending games need to be more accessible for families and children, but baseball’s biggest moments need to be watchable for kids across the country. To meet the needs of primetime television and advertising partners, World Series games begin after 8 PM on the East Coast and can run well after midnight given the pace of play struggles baseball has dealt with in recent years. Only the most diehard of baseball fans, children or adults, are staying up for those games. I didn’t stay up for the World Series this past year, if baseball has lost me, who else have they lost?

Baseball is intertwined with the fabric of our nation, but there are tears in that fabric. I, like so many others who grew up loving the game, still love it to this day and always will. But our national pastime can’t be the national pastime if the next generation of Americans don’t love the game the way we do.

Matt McCarthy is the sports anchor for the Cape Cod Morning News on Classical 107.5 WFCC, and is a news anchor/report for 99.9 The Q, Cape County 104, and Ocean 104.7. He can also be heard on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston.

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