Baseball — still the ‘National Pastime?’
SHEPHERDSTOWN — When America was mostly rural and dotted with dairy farms, small towns where workers toiled no more than 20 minutes from their homes and people bought at near-by shops and markets, it was baseball as the National Pastime. It was a time when professional football had the Chicago Bears, New York Giants and Washington Redskins and not too many championship-caliber teams.
College football hadn’t gained much of a foothold on the nation’s consciousness, remaining a more regional sport, and Notre Dame, Yale, Michigan and Alabama were the most prominent contenders for the national championship.
Television was only a novelty and cable sports weren’t even on anybody’s radar.
Basketball didn’t crown a national champion until 1939 and the Oklahoma City Thunder and Sacramento Kings weren’t in existence.
It was baseball as the unchallenged “National Pastime.”
Colorful and well-drawn baseball cards helped bring the youth of both city and country to baseball.
Baseball was a summer sport and football was a winter sport. Finding neighbors and friends to play baseball on a weed-filled lot was easier on a lazy, 80-degree afternoon than was cajoling the same group into playing football on some muddy grounds with the wind whistling its chilly tune and the temperature struggling to reach 40 degrees.
The World Series, although played in the afternoon, had some mystery about it in the minds of sixth graders. School children knew the two teams tangling in the World Series. They stored the names Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Dizzy Dean and Pepper Martin in places in their brains where algebra, Shakespeare and the circumstances surrounding the reasons for World War I could never take hold.
And then college football, professional football and basketball became television staples. Those sports steadily grew in popularity.
On Sundays in the winter time, people would gather in homes to eat the most delicious of junk food, wash those calories down with beer and cheer on their favorite NFL teams. Outside it was snowing and raw . . . so staying inside and eating everything from pork rinds to ethnic delicacies and cheering on the Eagles or Packers was an easy choice.
But baseball still had its romanticized father-son relationships. The father, who saw baseball as a recreational prize when he was growing up, could take his son to a Major League game and be well-versed in the rules and nuances of what was taking place on the gloried and manicured green space in front of him.
Baseball has increasingly become a regional sport. Football has taken television’s cue and run to ratings and attendance heights.
If you live in Phoenix, you can see the Arizona Diamondbacks on television, but you can’t see the Tampa Bay Rays. But those same desert dwellers can see the Buccaneers of the NFL on the Sunday, Monday or Thursday dates when Tampa Bay plays. Those residing in Cincinnati watch the Reds but can’t get the Phillies’ games. But those burghers can watch the NFL’s Eagles.
Baseball still has more books written about its intricate trials and human stories. Not many feature-length movies are made concerning baseball, football or basketball, but baseball still has the most.
Baseball has long been viewed with warm and fuzzy feelings. It has lost little favor for those who have played it, watched it and told its stories to relatives for 65 or more years. And to those folks, it will always be the National Pastime.