The local CSN affiliate aired its nightly sports yak show last night, and it featured a long discussion about what baseball “needs” to do to ensure its continued survival and growth or something to that effect. The talk ranged over the whole usual slate of topics about what is “wrong” with baseball–time of game, pace of play, television appeal, those darn kids and their video games. Oh, yeah–there was a lot of talk about appealing to kids, so much so that I assumed that any moment Helen Lovejoy would pop up on the set and wonder, “Won’t somebody please think of the children?!”
As I listened to this conversation, and all the concern about how appallingly difficult it is, apparently, to get kids interested in baseball, I started to notice a fallacy in this argument: Kids, it turns out, don’t stay kids forever.
Obvious, or so it would seem. But that fact is not at all obvious to the people who express great concern over how kids today just can’t get into baseball because it’s not a video game and it doesn’t provide instant gratification and all that. This line of thinking ignores the fact that kids grow up, and what appeals to them when they are ten or twelve is not necessarily what will appeal to them at thirty. For instance, when I was ten, I played way more video games than I do now. True, those games were relatively crappy Atari games, not the sophisticated virtual worlds of today; but they held a lot of my attention back then–attention that today, I’d mostly prefer spending on baseball, among other things. Your tastes change as you get older, and there’s no reason to believe that kids who are not drawn to baseball in their youth will never get into the game later.
There’s even precedent for that sort of thing: golf. Few kids are really into golf; indeed, few kids have ever really been into golf (not counting the miniature variety). People who become golfers and golf fans tend to do so when they are older, when the game becomes more of a match for who they are at that stage in their lives. Perhaps baseball is evolving into just such a sport; perhaps its fans of tomorrow are the kids of today–just not at the moment when they are kids.
That doesn’t mean bringing some youngsters to the game is a hopeless cause. There will always be a certain number of kids who are into baseball, just because their parents (dads, really) dig the game. And making the game as appealing as possible to kids should be part of MLB’s agenda, at least to some extent; Commissioner Manfred said as much upon taking office, as noted in this space earlier this year. Also noted in that same post was one of the key ingredients to making sure kids get into the game: making sure that the sport maintains a fair and competitive balance so that kids in markets all around the leagues get to see their local teams succeed and experience the fun that comes with going to the ballpark to watch a winning team.
There are many avenues to becoming a fan of any sport, baseball included. Being a baseball fan doesn’t necessarily start in Little League. Those who make pronouncements on the sport’s impending doom due to lack of video game appeal are not necessarily right. In fact, they are suffering from a narrow, short-sighted view of how a sport becomes a part of a fan’s life. If kids love baseball while they’re still kids, great; but if we need to wait a while for them to start showing up at the ballpark, that’s OK too. The game will still be there waiting to welcome them when the time is right.