By IAN GUSTAFSON
Football long ago eclipsed baseball as the most-watched sport in our country and certainly garners far more popular interest than any other sport. The Super Bowl and the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) games are among the most widely viewed broadcasts of the year.
Yet baseball remains our national pastime, the game that reflects our national character.
Despite thinning attendance and interest in the M.L.B. and the surging popularity of football, our lawmakers still believe that baseball is the game befitting of our highest honor.
I truly believe baseball has retained its “pastime” status because it occupies an important place in the American psyche.
It is befitting that George W. Bush chose to throw out the first pitch at a World Series game in New York after 9/11 rather than choosing to make a similar appearance at a football game.
The image of the President trotting off the mound after firing a perfect strike reinvigorated a nation and has been one of the most enduring from 9/11. Mike Piazza’s iconic homer in the first game after 9/11 similarly reminded New York that life would go on and remains one of the more enduring symbols from that national tragedy.
While more and more kids are branching out and trying all sorts of sports, baseball is an integral part of contemporary American boyhood.
From that first wild T-ball swing to pick-up ball on the sandlot to Little League and beyond, baseball has brought kids together for decades.
These formative years on the diamond have been immortalized in movies like The Sandlot, Field of Dreams and The Benchwarmers.
That’s not to mention the reverence our pop culture has for a game of catch with dad. One of the most recognizable symbols of the father-son relationship is a game of catch, and this moment been romanticized by many a country-western song.
Baseball heroes like Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron and Pete Rose have a larger-than-life presence in our consciousness in a way that Joe Namath and Steve Young do not. The legends of yesteryear are forever ensconced in this country’s lore and young boys still use them as role models.
Furthermore, the atmosphere at a baseball game has been essentially the same for well over a hundred years and remains one of the best outings a family or group of friends can take. There’s something timeless about hot dogs, peanuts and beer at a ballgame.
Baseball is the only game that served as an important battleground in the fight for civil rights. In 1947, Branch Rickey, G.M. of the Brooklyn Dodgers, famously introduced the league’s first black player. Jackie Robinson’s courage and stellar play made his debut a significant milestone in the civil rights struggle.
In our World War II, thousands of G.I.’s were emboldened by the presence of hundreds of M.L.B. stars around them, including legends like Bob Feller and Ted Williams who left behind fame and fortune to fight for freedom.
Their sacrifice further endeared the sport to the American people.
In short I believe the symbolism that baseball has built around itself in our popular culture guarantees it will be our national pastime for the foreseeable future, no matter how popular football might find itself.
Baseball is part of our history as a nation and will remain proof of our exceptionalism.