Celebrating America’s Pastime on the Fourth of July

The Fourth of July – the quintessential day of all things American; a celebration of our nation’s freedom, filled with hot dogs, fireworks, apple pie, family, and, of course, America’s pastime – baseball.

How did baseball grow to become America’s pastime, anyway? And, moreover, why has that moniker stuck? Surely, as times have progressed, Americans have become more interested in other sports – football, especially with the rise of college football, seems to have taken over as the favored sport among Americans, particularly young Americans. I mean, come on, baseball has even had to adopt new measures to make the game more user-friendly for the current generation – that is to say, it’s been decided that speeding up the game is a must, to make it easier on fans and observers.

However, through those changes and the rise of football, the NBA, even soccer in American culture, baseball is still heralded as America’s sport. Just why is that – and why has it always been?

The first mention of a game like baseball comes in 1791, in which a Pittsfield, Mass., city ordinance banned baseball from being played within 80 yards of the town meeting house. It has long been rumored that Abner Doubleday invented the game on American soil in Cooperstown, New York, in 1893. Although this is likely a rumored, as there is not much solid evidence connecting Doubleday to the sport, Cooperstown is nonetheless where the Baseball Hall of Fame stands today, and how many people know of the invention of the game in the United States. Major League Baseball is said to have played its first game in 1876.

Regardless of it’s exact inventor, it stands true that baseball has been played on American soil for years. It has spanned much of the history of this country, making it undoubtedly an integral part of our nation’s cloth. Abraham Lincoln threw baseballs with his sons and had a baseball field constructed behind the White House during his presidency, and William Howard Taft became the first president to start the trend of throwing out a first pitch during a Major League Baseball game in 1910,  a trend which has been followed by nearly every president since.

The close ties that baseball has held to our nation’s leaders further shows why baseball is so closely connected to America. Baseball games have been played during tumultuous moments in the United States’ history, almost serving as moments of normalcy during otherwise chaotic and painful events. Then-Commissioner Bud Selig cancelled all baseball games occurring on September 11, 2001, as well as all games through the rest of the week, but, when baseball did return to being played, President George W. Bush made it a point to attend a baseball game after the tragedy affecting America. The New York Yankees would, that season, move on the World Series and, despite the loss, reflected the emotions of the country throughout the year – emotions of sadness in loss, but abilities to come together and face adversity as a team.

More recently, the Boston Red Sox – and many other MLB teams – honored the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013 with jerseys, bats etched with the names of victims, and a constant adopting of the motto, “Boston Strong.” The Red Sox used baseball as a way to try to heal their city, their fans, and the nation.

Baseball has echoed a number of American events such as this. Harry S. Truman threw out a first pitch in 1945, just six days after Japan surrendered to end World War II, with his appearance showing that peace had returned, and America was pulling out of a period of disruption.

Baseball has also served as a mirror for our country’s social disruption, particularly with respect to the color barrier in the game of baseball. When Jackie Robinson became the first African-American player to play in the Major Leagues in 1947, he not only set the baseball world on fire, but all of America, as well. The issue of racism in America was brought to the forefront, with the subsequent call-up of Larry Doby by the Indians on July 5 furthering the fact that baseball wouldn’t be a sport of discrimination any longer. Americans of all generations and social proclivities were forced to acknowledge that Major League Baseball was becoming racially diverse, a trend which has stayed in place ever since. American culture did not become fully accepting of integration for a number of years after the color barrier was broken in baseball, which makes baseball one of the first and most progressive institutions in American society.

Baseball has been part of American culture for so long it’s impossible to imagine our nation without it. Yes, there have been changes, but the fundamental game has remained the time, with the same sort of connection to the fans and country around it.

Although new franchises have popped up throughout the years, as less lucrative ones relocate and change identity, many American teams have rich histories, including the Cleveland Indians, a charter member of the American League, with a storied past that spans two World Wars, a Great Depression, wars throughout Asia and now the Middle East, American tragedies, social changes, and technological advancements. There’s hardly an institution in America that has the same sort of deep-rooted and passionate connection to American culture, and it only seems fitting that when everyone lights up the grill and waves an American flag today, they give a nod to the sport that has traced a similar fabric throughout the American past, and will remain a deep-seated part of the culture for years to come.

Photo: Ed Wolfstein/Icon SMI

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