Thursday, April 19, 2012

GRAY MATTERS: Baseball Is Out Of Touch With An Entire Generation

By Mark F. Gray 

I would encourage anybody who has the time to spend some at an elementary school in their community and open a window into the soul of a new generation. There I stood at recess at a school in the suburbs, in the midst of a substitute teaching assignment, three days after Major League Baseball’s Jackie Robinson Day celebration startled at what I witnessed.

In this diverse middle school, whose demographics include lower to upper middle class students from all ethnicities (African American, Hispanic, Asian, East Indian, etc.), I was struck by a harsh reality that faces America’s national pastime. Kids are still shooting baskets, they are throwing footballs and have turned the black top into a makeshift soccer pitch. However, nobody is playing catch.

Not only don’t African American kids think baseball is cool anymore, kids in general don’t think baseball is cool these days. I went so far as to ask my class of fifth graders - approximately 30 students - who plays (organized) basketball and nearly every hand went up. I asked who played football and nearly every boy raised his hand. When I asked who plays soccer every student - boys and girls - raised their hands. As for the number of hands when asked who plays baseball, it was a resounding zero.

Naturally, the question from a guy who would have given his soul to play in the majors when he was young, was “Why?”. The answers ranged from “It moves to slow” to “Its boring” to “Its just not cool”. Again these aren’t just black kids from the inner city, these are multicultural suburban kids from families who can afford baseball gloves and bats.

The notion that baseball is too expensive is a convenient excuse to justify why inner city African Americans aren’t playing the game but it does not fly when you are dealing with diverse populations of reasonably affluent families from the suburbs. If a generation of kids can afford cell phones with monthly charges and video game consoles that start at $200 with games that average $50 apiece surely they can afford a one time investment $70 for a high end glove and $90 for an aluminum bat that will last for three or four years. The problem is that baseball is out of touch with this generation.

While Jackie Robinson Day focuses on the lack of participation of African Americans in baseball, it doesn’t address what’s truly wrong with America’s past its time. The game has done a marvelous job taking advantage of new technology for broadcast purposes but its cultivation of a new generation of players and fans remains analog in a broadband world. The game is so caught up in its grandiose traditions that it doesn’t speak to the new generation of fans and participants.

When AAU basketball teams offer kids a chance to see the country at tournaments in places they can only dream of when watching TV young athletes will gravitate toward them. That baseball doesn’t market its superstars and create interest in a way speaks to the MTV generation hasn‘t created a passion for the game for future fans and players.

I listened to sports talk hosts around the country Monday morning after Jackie Robinson Day diminish the significance of the dearth of Black players in Major League Baseball because of the impact of Latin American players who are filling the void.

But what happens in 20 years when there are no American players of any color who are playing the game?

No comments:

Post a Comment