Diagnosing baseball’s decline

By Jacob Clemen

The decline of baseball as the American sport of choice has been well documented in just about every sports outlet through every medium in recent years.  A proper diagnosis is more difficult to find.

Student athletes across the country made commitments to take their talents to the college level on Wednesday for National Signing Day.  The level of attention paid to young athletes serves as a reminder that the future of professional sports is often decided before athletes even know how to drive.

According to a study by the National Sporting Goods Association the number of kids 7 to 17 years old playing baseball decreased by 24 percent from 2000-2009 while youth tackle football experienced a 21 percent increase in participation.

Reasons for choosing football over baseball

A major interest in football comes from the physical nature of the sport. The game revolves around violent hits and elite athleticism. Baseball does not cater to explosive athleticism like football. While base- stealers certainly show flashes of impressive speed, the saying “you can’t steal first” rings true. Players cannot dominate a game with pure athleticism as they must possess the technical skills to reach base or put the ball in play before they can show off their natural gifts.

  • Check out a comparison of attendance between college baseball and football programs here

Dan Wheelock, a defensive lineman at Luther College, played both baseball and football before college. He chose to continue with football because he prefers the team aspect of the game.

“I think that football is a more rewarding experience than baseball and other sports in general because of all the specific game planning that goes into each week,” Wheelock said. “When we execute according to plan we get a great sense of gratification as a team.”

Baseball is often criticized for the number of games as a major league regular season is a grueling 162 games so there is less planning on a game by game basis. Another criticism is the idea of a one on one battle rather than a unified team effort.

Wheelock acknowledges that baseball is a team game but prefers the idea of winning or losing as a team.

“Baseball is certainly a team sport but eventually it is decided by individual players,” Wheelock said.

Lawrence thrives as a baseball town

It is hard to ignore the evolving interests of American sports fans but baseball is a game of tradition that is slow to make changes to better the game. Rule changes such as instant replay were widely objected by baseball purists.

While passing attacks dominate the NFL and teams like the Los Angeles Clippers throw down alley-oop dunks in high scoring affairs baseball clutches to its roots of simplicity and a slow pace.

Major League Baseball targets young athletes to get involved in baseball as they understand that the youth of today will be the stars of the future. Brad Stoll, head baseball coach at Lawrence High School, understands the need to reach out to a young audience.

“I don’t really have to do any recruiting because most guys that will play baseball make that decision coming into high school,” Stoll said. “Baseball is a game of repetition and it is extremely difficult for someone to pick up baseball after not playing it for a year or more. If you’re reaching out to kids at 14 it’s already too late.”

With numbers down across the country Stoll considers himself lucky for having strong numbers.

“We’ve had between 65 and 80 kids tryout every year that I’ve been here,” Stoll said. “I don’t know of many other programs in the state that have that many consistently like that.”

Despite the strength of participation in Lawrence Stoll still witnesses the dominance of football programs both in participation and attendance.

“Football is a numbers game. You need depth because it is so physical and you need 11 players on either side to practice against each other where we may only need eight,” Stoll said. “People come in droves to the football games because they only play once a week while we might play two or three times.”

In a town known for its basketball tradition Stoll also acknowledges the popularity of basketball at the high school level.

“The way that basketball has evolved it is a fast paced game and has embraced the hip-hop culture so the kids come out to watch that,” Stoll said. “In baseball the pace is much slower because you have 20 seconds or so between each pitch.”

It is hard to ignore the evolving interests of American sports fans but baseball is a game of tradition that is slow to make changes to better the game. Rule changes such as instant replay were widely objected by baseball purists. Meanwhile, young Americans flock to football fields and basketball courts.

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