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Sports >  MLB

Commentary: Perhaps it’s no longer ‘America’s pastime,’ but baseball will always be a national treasure

By Howie Stalwick For The Spokesman-Review

Baseball has survived two world wars, Vietnam, 9/11 and Barry Bonds. Surviving COVID-19 – so far, anyway – is just the latest in a long list of accomplishments by the sport that has helped shape America like no other.

Baseball flourished in this country long before the NFL, NBA, NHL, NCAA, PGA, WNBA, MLS or any other alphabet-soup major sports organization existed in the United States. Baseball’s National League, America’s first major sports league, dates back to the spring of 1876.

How long ago was that? Well, 12 of the 50 states (including Washington) had yet to be granted statehood; Babe Ruth had yet to be born; and the railroad had yet to reach the tiny, unincorporated village of Spokan Falls.

True, baseball is no longer “America’s pastime.” Football has replaced baseball as our most popular sport, partly due to football’s superior television appeal to the masses. TV audiences, it would seem, appreciate the crack of a bone more than the crack of a bat.

Watching baseball in person … ah, now we’re talkin’. The start of another season of major league (and minor league) baseball reminds so many of us why baseball still reigns supreme over football when observed in person.

Why? For starters, NFL teams play in stadiums and MLB teams play in ballparks. Where would you rather spend three hours of your day: In a stadium, or in a park? Do you prefer spending $600 or $100 on decent tickets for a family of four? How about $75 or $15 to park your car? And how do you place a price tag on the comfort gained in knowing your family almost certainly will be exposed to less belching, cursing and other alcohol-fueled misbehavior at an MLB game than an NFL game?

Football fields are identical in size and shape, but baseball fields are wonderfully diverse. The distance of the outfield fences from home plate; the height, composition and/or angles of those fences; the size and shape of foul territory – every baseball field is unique. If I want copies, I’ll go to Staples.

Football’s helmets, facemasks, visors and distant seats make it nearly impossible for spectators to see what players look like. For all we know, a used car salesman from Chattanooga has been moonlighting as Clemson’s long snapper since 1972. Baseball fans, on the other hand, can actually see what players look like, for better (George Springer, bless his facial features) or worse (Yogi Berra, bless his soul).

Statistics often add to our appreciation of sports, and most fans recognize the significance of a batter hitting 50 home runs or a pitcher winning 20 games in a single MLB season.

The most recognized stat for a 17-game NFL season? The only thing that comes to mind is a 1,000-yard rushing season, which amounts to (yawn) 58.8 yards per game. Your Aunt Harriet could gain half that if you popped her free on an end-around against the Seahawks.

In conclusion: Football and so many other sports have contributed immensely to the American way of life, but baseball remains a national treasure. I mean, how many of us have marveled at all the personal and statistical information provided on the back of baseball cards? The only worthwhile information ever conveyed on the back of a football card for most offensive linemen would be something along the lines of, “Once consumed 12 rib eye steaks and Rhode Island for dinner.”

Howie Stalwick covered baseball, football and other sports for The Spokesman-Review and dozens of other media outlets (often as a freelancer) for more than four decades. He retired in his hometown of Spokane in 2016. Howie may be contacted at howiestalwick@frontier.com.

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