Next Summer’s Pastime

Next Summer’s Pastime

Baseball is my favorite sport. As a youth growing up with the 1990’s Cleveland Indians, this fact may not be surprising. You can add to the reasons being raised in a baseball family with college athletes in the sport.

This is why the recent struggles of MLB and the players to move forward on a plan for the 2020 season hurt the most for me. With the players’ rejection of the latest offer, we are likely looking at a very delayed, extremely short season. If we are lucky enough to get anything at this point.

Now the sport of baseball has been widely reported as being past its prime and losing ground to football and basketball. I, however, look forward to the hope of next year. Even if a better plan had been agreed to, baseball this year was almost guaranteed to be played without fans in the stands in any scenario.

Now MLB has another major hurdle before next year’s season with collective bargaining discussions, if the league and players settle their differences after 2020, the sport could see a surge in attendance next year.

How so? I have two main reasons. First, outdoor baseball is a perfect activity post-COVID-19. While large capacity stadium events will be slow to comeback fully, outdoor events are safer than indoor ones. People have been cooped up mostly inside for months and are ready to get out. You can see it with industries such as restaurants that have been slowly allowed to allow customers with outdoor seating. These places are getting packed. People will be ready to get out soon.

The second reason is the nostalgia of outdoor baseball unrelated to COVID-19. While often derided for its slow pace of play, baseball is the perfect spectator sport for getting out and enjoying a day with family and/or friends. You can hang out, talk, and enjoy yourself while being able to readily snap back to the action without missing anything. And then there is unmatched taste of a ballpark frank and ice-cold beer to wash it down. They just do not taste the same at a football or basketball game.

Missing out on a summer of this pastime will likely lead to some increased interest in 2021 once games are back and seats are open. MLB will need to work hard to capitalize on this. ESPN’s latest 30 for 30 documentary “Long Gone Summer” explores the homerun chase heyday that brought the sport out of a similar labor dispute fueled funk and fan exodus. With the challenge baseball now faces, it must ensure it can salvage what it can this year, resolve labor issues before next season, as well as imagine some additional creative changes to the sport and experience so that when fans return in 2021 they stick around for good. MLB will likely need more help than a vaccine, but I hope they have it in them.