game of baseball was the undisputed national pastime for more than a century,
until American football overtook it as the nation's most popular and profitable
pro baseball teams still draw big crowds and make millions of dollars a
year. And plenty of other professional,
collegiate, and amateur teams still play the game.
many of the vacant spaces that Americans call sandlots, where kids by the millions
once brought their own wooden bats, leather gloves, and cowhide-covered balls —
and picked teams among themselves — are eerily empty. And this worries those who look to the future of the sport. They remember when boys of all abilities who
played sandlot ball — and most were boys — remained fans and paying customers
baseball is highly organized, focused on winning rather than having fun, and — some
say — over-coached. Only highly skilled
players get much chance to play. Ordinary
kids have other playtime options, including sedentary video games. And as housing developments have filled in
the open spaces, there are fewer sandlots.
baseball is funding outreach programs to re-introduce the game to kids in the
inner cities, where basketball — which is cheaper and faster — is now the
overwhelming game of choice. Baseball's
heavy recruiting in Latin America and Asia has increased its international
appeal but done nothing to bring small-town and rural American kids back to the
day, say the worriers, baseball's decreasing grassroots appeal could hit the
game where it hurts — in the columns marked attendance and profits.