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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Bases Loaded

Each week this section will feature three stories from around the baseball world and a preview of the weekly story in the works. Each base will focus on a different facet of the game. First base will focus on news from college and amateur baseball, second base will feature an update from the world of minor league and independent ball and third base will feature  interesting news from any level of America’s pastime.

First Base- Scott Redd won the MVP award for the National Adult Baseball Association over 50 and 60 tournament. Redd’s South Dakota Jackalopes went 6-0 to win the championship while he batted .618 and threw to complete games.

Second Base- The Wisconsin Timber Rattlers received the 2012 MacPhail Award for top promotions with its work in youth and student involvement. The Timber Rattlers donated to schools and community baseball programs to get students reading and involved in sports.

Third Base- The Los Angeles Dodgers bid over $25.7 million for the rights to negotiate with Korean pitcher Ryu Hyun- Jin. The Dodgers have 30 days to reach a deal with Hyun Jin, a 25-year-old who posted a 2.80 ERA in Korea.

 

Baseball slipping as America’s pastime

Baseball was long considered America’s game and was treasured with other american classics such as apple pie and hot dogs. Football passed baseball as the american game long ago but surprisingly, baseball has fallen behind less popular sports as well. Take a look at where baseball stacks up in high school participation.

 

Escobar gay slur leads to increased public awareness

Last month, Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Yunel Escobar started a national discussion about cultural and sexual diversity by writing a homophobic slur on his eye-black in Spanish.

The phrase, “Tu ere maricon,” which translates to “you are a fa–ot” sparked a discussion on two fronts. Not only did it create a discussion about education on homosexuality, it also cause debate in the Spanish-speaking community on the nuance of the derogatory phrase and slang from different countries.

Language and cultural barriers

Escobar was suspended for three games and went through sensitivity training as a part of his punishment for the slur but some felt that punishment was too soft.

-For more on multicultural and sexual orientation education at KU click here

Blane Harding, the director of Multicultural Affairs at the University of Kansas, spoke on Escobar’s punishment and education.

“It was incognizant. He didn’t realize that he was offending a whole group of people,” Harding said. “If he realizes he did something wrong and if he’s open to the education, then education is appropriate. If he’s willing to learn, education can be extremely beneficial beyond a suspension.”

As more and more immigrants from Latin America come into the United States, a trend mirrored in baseball, the need for dialogue between two cultures becomes necessary across the nation. Since 1990 the percentage of Latino players in the MLB has increased from 13 percent to a number that fluctuates around 28 percent according to an NBCsports.com article.

Patricia Manning, professor of Spanish Literature at the University of Kansas, spoke on the difficulties of slang in new cultures.

“There are differences in every country in terms of slang,” Manning said. “Anyone working in a non-native culture will struggle to have a handle on what is appropriate.”

This was brought up by many native Spanish-speakers including Ozzie Guillen, the manager of the Miami Marlins, who defended the word as something his family and children use on a daily basis with no thought of offending homosexuals.

Manning agrees that in certain countries the term “maricon” may not be an offensive word but that Escobar should know better.

“It depends on each person’s experience,” Manning said. “There are families where that is a teasing insult rather than a major offense but anyone who has spent significant time in the U.S should know that isn’t appropriate.”

Homosexuality in sports

Homosexuality has long been a taboo topic in the sporting world. There are very few professional athletes that are open homosexuals and athletes like Escobar, Kobe Bryant and Amar’e Stoudemire have all made very public gay slurs in recent years.

The LGBT group at The University of Kansas held its first education session on gender identity and sexual orientation for the athletic department in August in response to these instances of homophobic outbursts from athletes.

Michael Detmer, the LGBT Resource Center Coordinator spoke on the stigma that surrounds gay athletes.

“In the LGBT world the athletic world is the farthest from that connection between the two environments and a lot of LGBT athletes don’t ever fully disclose their identity or orientation with their teammates because there is just this negative light shined on their orientation,” Detmer said.

While acts of homophobia from famous athletes are not a good thing there can be some silver lining to the offensive acts. In many cases, an athlete’s remarks receive a lot of attention and engage more people in the discussion that normally wouldn’t engage in that type of conversation.

Harding believes that issues of gender and orientation need to be brought to the forefront of national thought before they can be resolved.

“When you take a look at gender and orientation those things haven’t gotten to that point of being aware in society,” Harding said. “Any time you can raise public knowledge and sort of raise discussions and conversations to get the dialogue going people are going to realize they need to change those things.

Multicultural and LGBT education at KU

Educational programs on diversity in culture and sexual orientation are important for creating an open and accepting college campus. Here are some ways that KU is ensuring that those who want to get educated and involved have that opportunity.

Clemen: Blane Harding, the director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs at the University of Kansas, speaks on education and awareness at KU.

Harding: There are awareness months almost every single month: Hispanic Heritage Month, Native American Month, there’s a Queers and Allies Month. So people have the opportunity on this campus to educate themselves if they really want to educate themselves. You don’t necessarily have to go to somebody else to get educated because these things are widely publicized everywhere around campus.

Clemen: Michael Detmer, coordinator of the LGBT Resource Center discusses the ways that students, faculty and members of the Lawrence community can get involved or get education on the LGBT movement.

Detmer: Safespace is generated for students. It’s sort of a shorter, condensed version of Safezone and it’s also a LGBT Allie training specifically for students. So anyone from student groups to resident hall communities or different floors in residence halls to specific classes within a major, those students can reach out to Queers and Allies, which is the LBGT student group and discuss possibly having somebody come in to teach the Safespace training which is again, LGBT ally training that talks about gender identity and sexual orientation.

Bases Loaded

Each week this section will feature three stories from around the baseball world and a preview of the weekly story in the works. Each base will focus on a different facet of the game. First base will focus on news from college and amateur baseball, second base will feature an update from the world of minor league and independent ball and third base will feature  interesting news from any level of America’s pastime.

First Base- The Kansas Jayhawk baseball team concluded its fall slate of scrimmages over the weekend. The team will hold ten more practices before its trip to the Dominican Republic.

Second Base- Top-ranked prospect Ryan Adams was suspended 25 games for a positive drug test. Adams is an infielder in the Baltimore Orioles’ organization and was on the 40-man roster last season.

Third Base- The Kansas City Royals acquired right-handed pitcher Ervin Santana from the Los Angeles Angels for a relief pitcher. Santana has a career 4.08 ERA but posted a poor 5.16 ERA last season. He is owed $13 million next season.

Stepping into the box- A completed video multimedia package to come tomorrow and a graphic on the cost of baseball later this week.

Bases Loaded

Each week this section will feature three stories from around the baseball world and a preview of the weekly story in the works. Each base will focus on a different facet of the game. First base will focus on news from college and amateur baseball, second base will feature an update from the world of minor league and independent ball and third base will feature  interesting news from any level of America’s pastime.

First Base- The KU baseball team honored Floyd Temple with a ceremony and the Inaugural Floyd Temple Alumni game Saturday. Temple coached the Jayhawks for 28 years and is the winningest coach in the team’s history.

Second Base- A homerun derby that took place on an aircraft carrier earned the title of “MiLB.com’s best promotion.” The derby took place on the USS Yorktown on the Charleston Harbor. American war veterans were included in the festivities put on by the Charleston RiverDogs.

Third Base- The San Francisco Giants won the 2012 World Series Sunday night in a four-game sweep of the Detroit Tigers. Buster Posey led the way for the Giants with a game-tying two-run homerun in the sixth inning to tie the game at three. Marco Scutaro’s 10th inning RBI single was the deciding run in the 4-3 final score.

Stepping into the box- I am working on a multimedia project on diversity in baseball.