Baseball can still charm us in its own way

After all these years, baseball still has its charms. That was evident over the past couple of weeks as Little League teams from all over the Upper Peninsula have been attempting to win district titles for a possible trip to state tournaments and even beyond.

As much as they wanted to win, a lot of them just enjoyed playing with their friends, and once they were eliminated, they were over it just a few minutes after the game was over and were back to just chilling out watching the next game.

That charm was also clear during Major League Baseball’s Home Run Derby, which had started to become tedious for some people over the last few years. It was cool for a period of time, just like the NBA’s slam dunk contest and 3-point shootout.

This year’s home run derby was a blast to watch as you got to see some star players be fully invested. The final round was a showdown between the Chicago Cubs’ Kyle Schwarber and Washington’s Bryce Harper.

Schwarber put on a fun show but was finally bested when Harper made a big comeback to tie him and then get one more longball in bonus time. It was a blast to watch and it showed that baseball is still a game that can get people interested.

That’s been an issue for quite awhile. Baseball is struggling to keep the interest of my generation and especially the one coming up. The newspaper in Minneapolis, the Star Tribune, recently did a feature about how MLB fans are “growing gray,” meaning that the majority of the league’s base are baby boomers and how that’s becoming a concern.

That doesn’t mean MLB isn’t trying to get millennials to pay attention as it has heavily devoted itself to connecting on social media, but it doesn’t do a great job of marketing its stars — definitely nowhere near the level that the NBA does with players like LeBron James, Steph Curry and Kevin Durant.

Social media is a good starting point, but the sport’s bigger problem is just the pace of play. How bad has it gotten? In that same Tribune article, Minnesota Twins president Dave St. Peter said that even he can’t pay attention for an entire game — and he’s in charge of a franchise.

I love baseball, but staying intently focused on the field for nine innings can be difficult. You’ve got extra time between pitches, player substitutions and sometimes numerous pitching changes. I’ve never understood the idea of bringing in a pitcher to face just one guy and then pulling him after he gets the guy out.

What makes managers think he can’t get the next batter out? It just seems like a waste to me. A great way to fix this could be to limit all of these delays as much as possible.

A pitch clock has been debated for awhile now. I’d get behind that. Just set the clock at 30 seconds. If you can’t throw a pitch within that time limit, it’s an automatic ball. If you do it again, it’s an automatic walk. Trust me, it will solve the problem pretty quickly.

MLB could also institute a rule that you can only make one pitching change per inning. I could see a minor uproar over this because it could hurt whatever strategy teams have in mind, but if the league is truly concerned about pace of play, this could help fix the issue.

There’s other minor issues, with the most obvious one being baseball’s ridiculous unwritten rules. That’s where you’re supposed to be passionate about the game, but not too passionate that you feel the need to celebrate good fortune.

You’re supposed to give 100 percent effort, but don’t try too hard like trying to beat an outfield shift by bunting to the opposite side of the field when you’re getting blown out.

It’s almost like baseball doesn’t know what to do with itself, but that’s also something that can be fixed.

It just won’t happen immediately. These “rules” have been passed on for years and in some cases, generations. The only way to fix that is for managers to get past that mindset and make sure that their players never adopt those attitudes in the first place.

Once that happens, baseball can prevent younger fans from shaking their heads in disbelief whenever these incidents take place.

Things may sound bleak for the sport, but as a whole, baseball is doing OK. Kids still love it and that’s evident as they excitedly clutch their gloves, tug on their hats and lunge toward any foul ball that sails in their direction during Little League games.

It’s also one of the best ways to enjoy a summer evening as hot dogs taste the best at the ballpark and it can give you the thrill of a game without worrying about a clock.

I think that’s the mindset people need to have when they attend a game. Unless it’s a playoff contest where tensions are high, baseball is a relaxing sport that is a fun way to let your cares drift away.

It may not be our pastime, but baseball can still entrance us.

We just have to let it do so in its own way.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.