I love baseball. I live for monster home runs and hammer-like curve balls. Every statistic, every play can mean life or death for a team's playoff hopes. Yet lately, even my unshakable interest in our national pastime has begun to wane.
The realization of how deeply steroids penetrated the game (though that era has begun to pass) and the obscenely large contracts offered to players, especially rookies (cough, Stephen Strasburg, cough) have made baseball show its business side more clearly, making it less of a fans' game.
Over the weekend, however, I attended some of the events leading up to tomorrow's All-Star Game, namely the Fan Fest, the Futures game, and the Celebrity and Legends Softball Game. And if my faith in the game I love is not completely restored, it is most certainly on its way.
These events serve an important purpose for both the fans and for the game itself. It helps to connect fans to the game, and to introduce a new generation of baseball enthusiasts to the sport and its athletes.
I was most impressed by the Fan Fest. At it's core, it is a massive display of baseball history that gives fans a chance to interact with each other, and with pieces of baseball lore, and to get close to the game.
The collectors tables give fans, especially younger fans, a chance to purchase memorabilia that can spark a desire to dive deeper into the history of the game, and the opportunity to to get autographs from legends such as Rollie Fingers can create memories that will last a lifetime.
I will never forget shaking hands with Fred Lynn, one of the greatest players to ever take the field for my beloved Red Sox. And with baseball activities such as a pitching challenge and a batting cage, and with clinics put on by legendary players such as Lou Brock and Cal Ripken Jr., younger fans can begin learning about the intricacies in a fun and memorable environment.
All of those factors, and especially the chance to be amongst thousands of baseball fans who only want to discuss and interact with the game with other fans, bring fans closer to the game. And, more importantly, it creates a brand new generation of fans out of the the children who tag along with their parents to these events.
The Futures game is extremely effective in that last regard. The minor league players are all too eager to sign autographs, which makes the game feel far more personal. Younger children connect with the players who will be entering the majors as they grow up, giving them a reason to follow baseball, and this is exactly what the MLB wants.
The events of All-Star Weekend ensure that baseball will never run short of fans. The Fan Fest, the Futures game, and even the celebrity softball game are all designed to ensure that a new generation of fans discover the love of the game, and that long time fans never lose it.
That baseball holds a special place in the collective heart of Americans is beyond doubt. Thanks to the events of All-Star Weekend, it is clear that it will maintain its hold on that spot for years to come.