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Commentary: …And the Fan Goes Wild

Baseball is a dying sport!

For one of the first times since the Fresno Grizzlies began playing baseball in Chukchansi Park, tickets were sold out, but it wasn’t that fans were there to enjoy a good old-fashioned baseball game.

The Fresno Grizzlies organization, the local minor league baseball team and farm club for the San Francisco Giants, was giving out replica championship rings — won by the Giants during the 2012 World Series — at the stadium gates before a game against the Tucson Padres.

Though the day was hot and the cement was blistering, thousands of “fans” waited in line hoping to receive the precious rings.  Some people camped overnight to guarantee themselves the jewelry, while others showed up one or two hours prior to the beginning of the first inning and missed their opportunity.

Five hours before the gates opened, it was clear that there was no chance of obtaining a ring. The number of people in line looked to be closer to 10,000 (about 2,500 rings were available).

But why is this an example of baseball dying? There were a lot of people who were desperate to get their hands on some sweet memorabilia, and surely they would stay for the game since they already had paid the price of admission, right?

Once the game began, the stadium looked as busy as it always does, or as it’s better described, not that busy at all.

While the Grizzlies are not known to be the best baseball team in the nation, they continue to churn out quality players for the Giants to pick and add to their own roster. With an area as dense in Giants’ fans as the Central Valley, you would assume there would be a good turnout. San Francisco jerseys were everywhere outside of the stadium waiting for their rings, but once the game began, it was apparent that most weren’t real baseball fans.

The hundreds of empty seats sent a message louder than the announcer through the loudspeaker.

Not as it once was

Baseball is considered one of the “Big Three” sports in the country, along with American football and basketball, but the sport is falling farther behind the other sports when ratings enter the conversation.

It’s safe to say that the NFL is far and away the most popular sport in the country.

The least popular game in the NFL, the Pro Bowl on NBC in 2012, saw 12.5 million viewers. Game One of the 2012 World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Detroit Tigers, however, featured the lowest number of viewers for an opening game of a World Series ever with 12.2 million. Game Two had fewer people tuned in to watch, despite the fact that it was the championship.

In four games, the World Series had about 50.5 million viewers.

Super Bowl XLVII, the most recent Super Bowl, featured the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens. It was rated as the third most-watched television program in the U.S at 108.41 million viewers.

Why is it that when you look around, you see Boston Red Sox hats and Giants jerseys if people aren’t watching the actual sport? And why are people claiming to like it, while numbers continue to decline?

America’s national past time?

Everyone knows that baseball is the national pastime. It’s synonymous with the phrase. It may be more American than apple pie and bald eagles. There’s even a song written to honor the game that is baseball. This is a reflection of what baseball was a century or two ago, not where it stands now. While it once was the most widely played sport in America, it has been surpassed by the NFL by a vast margin.

Tradition plays a large role in baseball’s tight grasp at relevance. Baseball has been played for so long, the sport oozes with history. The sport has survived through controversies surrounding performance-enhancing drugs and racism, but history seems to be one of the only attributes people like about the game.

People watch it because they always have since they were children. Their father or mother watched it, so they grew up along with the New York Yankees or the St. Louis Cardinals just like their parents before them — watching for the sake of tradition. Baseball clings to tradition because it doesn’t have much else. It is a slow game that has done little to nothing to change from what it was 100 years ago. People have grown tired of the same thing repeated year after year, while other sports continue to evolve to appeal to broader audiences.

Dying but not dead

Baseball will always have fans — bandwagoners or not. Some people genuinely love the sport because it appeals to them. Those who enjoy baseball are falling from the majority into the minority quickly. It doesn’t have the flair that other sports continue to promote. Younger viewers just don’t connect to baseball like prior generations. This will be a problem for the MLB in the not-so-distant future.

Professional athletes in the NFL and NBA have personalities that range from in-your-face and eclectic to wise and confident, that can be relatable across many demographics. Baseball doesn’t have anything to compare to them.

What was once special is now classified as generic and boring. There are 162 games in a season, and it drags on and on, never seeming to end.

Baseball is just what it always has been. And that is the problem. There is no change. There is no growth. Until something changes, the sport will continue to slowly fall in ratings and, eventually, fans will give up what they have held onto for so long.