Baseball is as American as the Liberty Bell. With her genesis sometime in the late 1800s, baseball has transcended the generations, thrilling audiences from sea-to-shining sea, as families fill stadiums in summer evenings. The sport is so intertwined with America’s cultural history that you’d be hard-pressed to find a community WITHOUT a baseball diamond.
Baseball is much more than a sport, though. It is a family experience, complete with its own customary cuisine (hot dogs) and song (Take Me Out to the Ballgame). It is the great American pastime, which begs the question. Why is baseball called the great American pastime?
From raucous to family-friendly
Baseball holds a special place in the portfolio of American competitive sports because it is so family-friendly, unlike football which attracts a predominately male audience. With baseball, moms, dads, and kids all find interest in the experience. This hasn’t always been the case, though. In baseball’s earliest days, it was a wild and raucous spectacle. According to the baseball historian, David Rapp:
“The players were crude and foul-mouthed. The fans were raucous, hungry for violence, and they cheered for mayhem on the field. And the owners were blatantly corrupt.”
This changed, though, when an enterprising young man named Ban Johnson created the American League as a family-friendly alternative to the already-established, raucous National League. What resulted was a new brand of baseball that more closely-followed the rules and created a welcoming, friendly atmosphere. The American League quickly formed teams in the major cities of Chicago, Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. Realizing that crowds preferred the American League’s style of play, the National League followed suit and made important changes to the manner in which they delivered the baseball experience to fans.
With baseball now viewed as an “acceptable” pastime by America’s general (and more particularly, high) society, baseball diamonds began to spring up in every corner of the country. Teams were formed at school, after school, at churches, etc.
“The ballpark became home to a festival of good cheer and ball players were touted as exemplars of decency and hard work.”David Rapp
Now that we’re well into the 21st Century, baseball is more than an American experience, and is a global phenomenon with teams and leagues in many countries. However, one thing will always remain the same, and that is modern baseball’s roots which are grounded in family-friendly values. Whether you’re catching a minor league game at Melaleuca Field sponsored by Frank VanderSloot or you’re watching community league game at the park sponsored by the city’s parks and rec department, the spirit of the game is still the same.
Yes, baseball really is the great American pastime, complete with a rich past and an even bright future. May we continue to enjoy the “experience” of baseball from the hot dogs to the song, from the roar of the crowd to the evening sun.