Two outs remain in the bottom of the ninth. Because of blistering sunshine, sweat pours from a player's brow, but he simply shrugs and wipes it away with his forearm. The stakes for each subsequent pitch are high as his team is losing by two runs, but he represents the game-tying score as his teammate occupies first base. His heart racing, a bearded man readjusts his helmet, points his bat toward the pitcher and digs his cleat into the batter's box.
This is a classic situation, one imagined by countless ballplayers throughout our great nation, and one reason why baseball has become America's Pastime since its inception.
It's the classic sport in the U.S., the national pastime.
Baseball is America's game.
Every year, millions of fans fill stadiums around the country to enjoy a game with friends and family.
Baseball is one of the oldest American traditions, and it's gone through numerous changes since it was invented almost 200 years ago.
But why do we love the game so much?
Maybe it's because it's the game we all grew up on. Anyone could play it; it didn't require much to play, just a stick, a ball and a glove. That was the beauty of it. And unlike so many of the other sports, anyone can play it. Your height and weight doesn't have to hold you back for this game. In fact, some of our greatest baseball heroes were just your typical "Average Joes".
Perhaps that's why Americans are so attracted to the game. The American dream is that anyone can find their wealth and happiness, that every man is equal. And what better way to show equality than in a sport with equal playing ground?
In honor of the Fourth of July, take a look at how our country has grown to love the greatest game throughout history.
The History of the Game
Baseball came from very humble origins. The game originated before the Civil War as rounders, played on sandlots. As the years went on, the game evolved, and the game was fine-tuned, with scoring and record-keeping brought in. The introduction of record-keeping gave baseball its basis. Just imagine baseball without stats and records. It's inconceivable.
In 1871, the first professional baseball league was created, and by the beginning of the 20th century, most large cities in the easter United States had a pro team. These teams were divided into two leagues, the American and the National, which still exists to this day.
Back then, however, the teams would only face off against teams in their own league. After winning the pennant in their league, the two league champs would face off in the World Series, which was decided by whoever won at least four games of a possible seven. This also still exists to this day, although we use a playoff series to decide the winners of each division.
Page 2 of 4 - Baseball truly seemed to find its footing in the 1920's, when the now American legend Babe Ruth led the New York Yankees to several World Series titles, thanks to the prowess of his hitting.
Because of Ruth, baseball became a household name. Families gathered around the radio to listen to games, or took a trip out to the nearest ballpark to gaze at their favorite players.
The game grew along with the country, and so many of us have grown up playing and watching the game, collecting baseball cards and idolizing the heroes of the diamond. And there were so many heroes to look up to, too. Not just the Great Bambino, but Jackie Robinson, the first African-American to play in the major leagues. There's Lou Gehrig, who was arguably one of the best first basemen of all time, before he was stricken with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. Or how about Jim Abbott, the pitcher who didn't let a disability stop his dream to play in the major leagues? Don't forget Jim Morris, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron or Stan Musial.
Joe DiMaggio still holds the record for consecutive games with a hit (56). Nobody will surpass Cy Young's career 511 wins. The great Hank Aaron held the career home run record for 31 years until Barry Bonds surpassed him in 2007. In 24 seasons, Pete Rose racked up 4,256 hits before being banned for gambling. Behind him? Ty Cobb, Aaron and Cardinals great Stan Musial.
The game has had its issues, too, with the players' strikes, substance abuse, or even the Black Sox scandal. A beautiful game for more than a century, strikes in the 1972 and 1981 cancelled a combined 799 games. Then, in 1995, a players' strike cancelled the entire MLB postseason. More recently, probes have linked modern-era players to steroids and human growth hormone use tainting records and championships. But that's all a part of the game's history, like it or not. Baseball is tied to our nation's history. In short, baseball and independence go hand-in-hand. So this July 4th weekend, get the family and friends together, fire up the grills and pull out that old baseball bat. Maybe after playing a game or two, you can sit down and watch fireworks with a nice slice of apple pie.
Why Do Americans Love Baseball?
To answer the question, we turned to some of the high school baseball coaches from around the region. Here are some of the answers:
"Augie Garrido, coach of the Texas Longhorns once said, “Baseball doesn’t give us what we need, doesn’t give us what we want, and doesn’t give us what we ask for. It only gives us an opportunity. That’s all we can ever expect out of life, and that’s all we can ever ask for.” What you do with that opportunity is up to you and nobody else. It is simple, yet complex.
Page 3 of 4 - Baseball is the changing of the seasons. Every spring provides us with new hopes and dreams with a new season. It carries us into the dog days of summer and ends with the fall classic. And for all its strengths and for all its weaknesses, baseball reflects who we are. It may not be the most exciting game, but it’s ours." -Coach David Flaspohler, School of the Osage
“Baseball plays a very important part in our lives as Americans. Sometimes even more than most people realize. The sport allows for everyone to be the 'hero'. From the children playing in the street to the families playing together in the yard, everyone has a chance to be their favorite player and hit that game-winning home run.
The ball field is my 'office' outside of the school. It's where I can have fun and play the best game ever invented. At times the field is the place where I can go and sit to think when I need it. I tell my boys that when we play between those white lines, everything that has happened outside them stays outside them. It's the one place where you can take individuals and turn them into one group, a family, you could say.”
-Coach Jason Trusty, Macks Creek High School
“I have loved baseball from the time I was a young boy, when I played it almost every spring and summer day - either with my dad in the yard or my friends at the city park. It is a game that anyone can play. It doesn’t matter if you are big or small. If you are willing to work hard, you can still be a very good player and have a lot of fun.
I love baseball because of how it can be a very simple game – as basic as “throw the ball, hit the ball, catch the ball” – and it can also be very complex and technical if a person is inclined to dig deeper into the strategies and mechanics.
Most of all, I love the game of baseball because it is such a wonderful tool from which we can all learn many valuable life lessons. It brings families and friends closer together through their love of the game and for each other. As a former player, current coach, and lifelong fan – and I feel honored to call baseball America’s (and my) favorite pastime.
-Matt Moulder, Camdenton High School
“I think it’s been ingrained in American society for the past 150 years; more than any other competitive team sport. But more importantly just about every little boy, from the time they were a youngster, played baseball. You can’t say that about football or other sports. That’s one thing that connects generations of Americans; it’s one thing that pulls us together as Americans.” -Coach Karl Oldenwald, Rolla High School
Page 4 of 4 - “It’s always been American’s pastime. And when the players went off to war, the women took charge and started their own league, which they made a movie about. It’s a sport that is economically great; it doesn’t cost a lot to play. And you don’t have to be super fast to play. Baseball is 90 percent mental; it’s a situational game. And that’s why it’s great.” - Marty Hauck, St. James High baseball head coach