Originally posted August 4, 2003
Baseball is a funny thing. There is a reason that it is called our national pastime and while perhaps some of the luster has worn off after 16 decades, baseball is still growing and spreading beyond the borders of the United States. In fact, American baseball is played on at least six of the seven continents (it might be played in Antarctica too, but I am not sure about that) and in much if the world it is a growing sport.
However in America we may have lost a generation or two of fans - more because of new distractions such as cable television, computers, board games and video games, which among other things, have caused us to see a decline of children playing in large groups like they did back in the day. It’s certainly not because the game has become less interesting.
A walk through America shows us just how ingrained baseball is into our culture. You find it on the television in restaurants and in bars, on billboards, in literature, on the advertising and artwork of the country and worn proudly on the clothing, hats, and goods of America.
During my recent wanderings in Colorado I decided to put baseball to the test. Of course, I knew I’d find major league baseball in Denver and minor league baseball in Colorado Springs and other cities. It is also found on the radio and in the stores - but that was modern baseball.
How ingrained was baseball in the culture of the small towns and history? Some research turned up some answers; Colorado has been playing organized baseball since the early 1860’s and has turned out a lot of players of the past and future.
In the small towns the abundance of baseball astounded me; in the tiny town of Silver Plume (a town with a population of about 500), I found not only baseball aficionados but also pieces of Americana, which indicated just how important baseball was. From pictures of the turn of the century baseball team made up of the miners who used to live and work there, their actual uniforms, baseball memorabilia including a copy of an ad of Willie Mays from Tan Magazine in Mays’ rookie season, old movie posters of baseball, old gloves and even a game of baseball darts – baseball was present nearly everywhere.
A short distance away, in the town of Breckenridge, the local historical society operates a museum. Unlike the modern touristy town filled with outdoorsmen, skiers and those seeking an alternative to the trendiness of Aspen, old Breckenridge and the nearby town of Dillon were working towns where the locals went to ski and play. They played, and they played baseball. The museum has a display case dedicated to the game and the players from those towns with uniforms, pictures, gloves and bats.
As I strolled through town the baseball signs and pictures, memorabilia and more poured into my senses - a picture of Ty Cobb, framed and ready for sale. Old gloves, bats and old baseball simulations were in the antique stores, next to modern baseball video games in the arcades. The Rockies game blared from televisions and radios of the local sports bars.
In Leadville another mining town, not only were the antique shops filled with baseball memorabilia, but so were the cafés, restaurants, and even the stores. On the street there were at least two groups of men that were talking about the game and they welcomed me, a total stranger to them, into their discussion regarding the strengths and the weaknesses of the Rockies team, which had just won 5 games in a row.
In the bar of an upscale restaurant in Denver, a woman corrected a total stranger who she overheard mentioning that Barry Bonds had hit home runs in five consecutive games, informing him that in fact it was six consecutive games. In an almost empty restaurant where the only two occupied tables faced the game that was in progress, there was a tin sign informing passersby that Shoeless Joe Jackson actually wears some brand of shoes whose name I have forgotten.
In some ways I found it funny that in the Rockies - be it in the big cities like Denver or in the small towns where everyone is an outdoorsman and so into health and fitness - that everyone still watched baseball.
It just goes to show that baseball is where you find it.