It was a few days before opening day that my beautiful wife Kacie (remember her name) told me something she’d heard on the Today show:
“Professionals think Major League Baseball will be over 30 years from now.”
Had I been drinking water, I would have done a spit take. Not at the shock, but rather the absurdity. How could pro baseball, one of the greatest of God’s gifts have an end in sight?
These so called experts (credentials not confirmed, could be escaped mental patients) claim that “kids today aren’t interested in baseball. They prefer basketball and soccer.” Therein lies the crackpot theory. Baseball is not a cheap sport to play. Helmets, bats, gloves, cleats, cups, they all add up. However, give me a ball and a decent pair of shoes and I’m ready for basketball and soccer.
But this can’t be the decline of baseball can it? The same possibly escaped mental patients interviewed a large group of teens and asked them who their favorite athlete was, and no baseball players were mentioned. Therein lies a significantly better theory. Baseball doesn’t have an ambassador to a young audience.
It’s not the length of games and rate of play (no one isn’t watching baseball only because it’s too long). The reason is kids need someone they want to watch. Someone new and unlike everyone else.
It isn’t the 5-tool superstar Mike Trout. It isn’t the Dark Knight of Gotham, Matt Harvey. It’s someone who lacks sportsmanship. A guy who will ignore the umpire when he tells him to do something. A bad egg with immeasurable talent.
We need Bryce Harper.
The phenom outfielder for the Nationals is finally putting together a season the Nats were expecting when they took him #1 in the 2010 Draft. But it’s not all red carpets and endorsement deals for one of the biggest rising stars in the league.
Harper comes to the table with scrutiny. Not for his on-field ability, which is virtually flawless, but his attitude. He has no off-field issues with arrests, he has never been accused of using performance enhancing substances, he is simply a young kid with a bad attitude. The Mohawk sporting outfielder has been ejected twice this month, once for arguing a check swing, and most recently for antagonizing an umpire when he was told to get into the batters box.
Ever since Harper was introduced to the masses at 16-years-old, it was clear that he had a chip on his shoulder. After a showcase at Tropicana Field, he told reporters that he was ready to be the best player in baseball. He was so sure of his talents, that he dropped out of high school, got his GED, and enrolled in community college so he could play against more competitive talent. This is the guy we need.
A far cry from Cal Ripken and his selfless attitude. Harper is the real life Kelly Leak that could bring back the younger audiences. Watching this guy swat a 440 ft. homerun and make an obscene gesture to the pitcher as he rounds the bases is going to make people tune it a lot more than the guy with the text book swing who has respect for the game.
Even my wife Kacie and I who, if I can be frank, hates Bryce Harper, will watch his at bats. Kacie (hoping he gets drilled) will watch in anticipation to see what he does next, and I, while impressed by his swing, watching for the same thing. We want to see what he does next.
Some may say that the state of the game is fine (I think so), and that we don’t need a douche bag ambassador. However, if you think about it, when hockey numbers went on the decline, Alexander Ovechkin and his rockstar lifestyle turned the ratings around.
When Michael Jordan retired from the Bulls for the final time, the NBA suffered for a few years. Until a short, foul mouthed thug named Allen Iverson turned heads. Yeah, he was good, but he was a bad guy.
The guy who gets booed gets more attention than the guy who gets cheered. The arrogant swagger may not be exactly what we want, but rather what we need. Gotham would have loved a heart warming super hero who helped old ladies cross the street in between foiling bank robberies. But they didn’t get that. They got Batman. The ultimate anti-hero.
We have Harper. The man who whether he likes it or not, has to save Major League Baseball. The commissioner has turned on the Nat Signal. Let’s hope Bryce answers.