In recent years, much has been made of Major League Baseball’s difficulty in attracting young fans. The consensus seems to be that baseball is, like the post office and the American novel, a slowly dying institution whose languid pace is simply no match for our attention span-challenged populace, where a 30 second YouTube clip of a cat can feel like an overlong Merchant Ivory movie.
I’d like to respectfully disagree.
Specifically, I think what those concerned about the future of the game are overlooking is the fact that the younger generation will not always be young, and that, as their lives progress, their sporting tastes are likely to change.
While it is undeniably true that a sports league whose games routinely go longer than three hours to complete is going to have trouble gaining traction with the adolescents whom sports leagues want to hook early, some day those kids will no longer be adolescents. Instead they’ll be adults who won’t necessarily like the same kinds of entertainment that they did when they were young. They may want something more nuanced, something more, in fact, slow-paced.
How do I know this is a possibility?
Because it’s exactly what happened to me.
I loved sports as a kid. The NBA, the NFL, the Olympics. I couldn’t get enough of them. Like so many sports-addicted kids, I spent enormous chunks of my childhood daydreaming about playing point guard for the Los Angeles Lakers, or replacing Dan Marino as quarterback of the Miami Dolphins.
But I didn’t like baseball. Too much time elapsed where it seemed that nothing really happened. And whenever people would tell me that I might change my mind about the game some day, it seemed as likely to me as suddenly growing wings and gaining the ability to fly.
Yet one evening, fast approaching 30, there I was, suddenly immersed in the apparent miracle that was Mariano Rivera on the mound. I couldn’t believe it. It was as if someone had unexpectedly turned on a light switch in a formerly darkened room.
It would be several more years before I realized why it had taken me so long. Baseball isn’t really a kid’s game. It’s too cerebral, too rooted in tradition for that to be the case. A boy wants speed from his sporting entertainment. He wants overtimes and buzzer-beaters. He wants the two-minute offense. He wants sudden death.
But though I still love those things, I have come to appreciate more subtle sporting pleasures as well. The look in a batter’s eyes when he knows he is about to get a fastball; the slow poetry of an outfielder catching a fly ball. Baseball, like that other original American art form, Jazz, requires a willingness to concentrate that we don’t always have when we’re young. And it’s why I think the potential demise of the American Pastime has been, to quote Mark Twain, “greatly exaggerated.”
By Dr. Kareem Tayyar
Kareem Tayyar is a Professor of English at Golden West College in Huntington Beach, California. His books include “Magic Carpet Poems” (Tebot Bach) and “In the Footsteps of the Silver King” (Spout Hill Press). His work has been featured in various publications, including The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor.