As the 2014 Major League Baseball season opens in full swing this week, reports of the national pastime’s death have been greatly exaggerated.
Humorist Mark Twain’s vernacular aside, those doubting Thomases and naysayers who deride the sport as no longer relevant, exciting or fan-driven clearly have spent too much time out in left field.
In fairness to the critics, professional baseball at all levels may no longer be the one and only passionate pastime that unifies the country. In 21st century America, too many other distractions, pursuits and pastimes compete for the collective attention and participation of the nation.
Yet truth be told, professional baseball today remains as robust as ever with no signs of its health turning foul anytime soon.
Numbers tell part of the story of baseball’s tour-de-force performance.
Attendance, perhaps the most reliable yardstick for measuring fan interest, remains high. Major League Baseball saw paid attendance of 74.02 million in 2013, the sixth highest in the league’s proud 144-year history. That, by the way, is more than four times higher than the National Football League’s total season attendance of 17.3 million in 2013-14.
What’s more, all of the top 10 seasons in baseball attendance happen to fall over the past decade. Locally, the Mahoning Valley Scrappers’ MLB farm team in 2013 witnessed its greatest attendance spike in its 15-year history.
Revenue numbers also illustrate that baseball remains solidly in the game of fan attraction. Over the last 20 years, baseball revenues have grown from roughly $1 billion to nearly $8 billion.
A dying breed clearly baseball is not.
INTANGIBLE MEASURES OF SUCCESS
All the same, such impressive numbers can tell only part of the story of America’s deeply rooted and ongoing love affair with baseball.
Close to home, just think of the communitywide enthusiasm and pride generated by and for the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, who embark on their 16th season at home June 17 against the Auburn Doubledays. In fan presence and team endurance, The Dawgs — bar none — remain indisputably the Mahoning Valley’s most successful sports franchise.
The team has fielded many savvy players who have ended up on the roster of the Indians, including C.C. Sabathia, Victor Martinez and Ryan Garko. The team and its nightly promotions have made Eastwood Field a destination station for tens of thousands of frenzied fans.
Of course, many Americans also celebrate the start of baseball season as a surefire sign that spring has finally sprung. The great American ballpark remains a great venue to unleash pent-up energy from this year’s exceptionally long, cold and dreary winter.
For fans of the Cleveland Indians and Pittsburgh Pirates, spring began with a bounce this week as both teams won their opening-day games en route to what many hope will be a pennant-contending season.
We look for more of the same talent from the Indians, Pirates and Scrappers as the 2014 season plays out. As we do, we’re certain it won’t be hard to score more points to savor about this proud and persevering pastime for millions across the nation.