For one week in October, Americans turn their attention back to baseball with the playing of the sport’s championship, the World Series.
It’s been many years since the sport of baseball could accurately be called America’s national pastime. With the rise of television, professional football – American football, not soccer – has become wildly popular, and teams in the National Basketball Association have loyal, even rabid, followings both here and overseas. Soccer, too, is growing in the U.S., thanks to more and more schoolchildren playing the sport and our nation’s increasingly diverse population.
Attitudes are also changing on baseball’s origins as a uniquely American sport. Recent scholarship has turned up references to a game with stick and ball called “bass ball” in late 18th century England – often played by women, no less -- and perhaps something similar a bit earlier in Germany.
Traditions die hard, however. For one week in October, even as college and pro football and soccer teams are in the thick of their seasons, hockey is starting competition and basketball is in warm-ups, Americans turn their attention back to baseball with the playing of the sport’s championship, the World Series.
This year’s Series -- the 108th – begins Wednesday, and includes two of baseball’s oldest franchises, the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals. They have met three times for the championship before, with this year’s series giving St. Louis a chance to avenge losing four straight games the last time they faced each other in 2004.
More is at stake than a sterling silver and gold trophy, however, or the winning team’s bonus money. Civic pride rests on the players’ shoulders and the chance for a city to shine on television broadcasts seen around the world. U.S. cities love their ball clubs and guard them jealously, lest they move elsewhere and condemn the community to an unwelcome status as “minor league.” For many too it’s more than sport, embracing values such as team work and individual initiative.
So don’t tell people in St. Louis, Boston and their neighbors around New England and the Midwest that baseball isn’t America’s national pastime any more. For them and millions of others, its place is secure.