retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

The Wall Street Journal reports that not only isn’t baseball dying, but it actually is experiencing a kind of resurgence.

Go figure.

“The number of people who played baseball in the U.S. surged 21% last year from 2014, to nearly 15.9 million, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association,” the Journal writes. “That includes everyone from a 6-year-old swinging a bat in the backyard to a starter in the College World Series.

“Most of the gain has been in casual players, those who play the game between 1 and 12 times in a year. The ranks of those dabblers grew 53%, or by nearly 2.3 million people, from 2014 to 2018 … The growth of more frequent baseball players was a modest 5% over four years. But in an era of esports and no sports … any growth is a win. Tackle football participation dropped 3.4% in the past five years. Hockey and soccer saw one-year drops of 3.8% and 4.3%, respectively, in 2018.”

Baseball’s improving fortunes isn’t just because it is the best game ever invented, the Journal suggests.

Major League Baseball believes that the increase can at least in part be attributed to “a program it launched in 2015 called Play Ball, which holds programs across the nation. The approach is very basic - getting kids swinging a bat or throwing and catching, even if they don’t have enough people to play an actual game. Every kid who shows up gets a plastic bat and plastic or foam ball.”

That’s an important lesson. You create allegiance by putting tools in people’s hands, not just by telling them what to do and how to do it. You open their eyes by giving them the tools and then you create a kind of muscle memory by providing the opportunity to use them.

In the case of baseball - which, if I haven’t mentioned it, happens to be the greatest game ever invented, and, as the great Robert B. Parker once wrote, “the most important thing that doesn’t matter” - it helps put people in touch not just with a sport, but with a game that is replete with metaphor and history and deeper meanings, all tied up in history and myth.

Or, as the writer W.P. Kinsella (“Shoeless Joe”) once wrote, baseball consists of “mathematics, geometry, art, philosophy, ballet, and carnival, all intertwined like the mystical ribbons of color in a rainbow.”
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