- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 10, 2014

Bart Giamatti went from Yale University president to commissioner of Major League Baseball and considered it a far grander job. In describing the cultural importance of baseball, he once wrote, “whoever wants to learn the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball.” Nothing against the World Cup or soccer; whatever gets kids today outdoors and away from their video games works for me. But I am an American, and soccer has not been, is not and never will be our national pastime. That honor goes, as Giamatti knew, to the uniquely American game of baseball, which goes with the Fourth of July, hot dogs and Cracker Jack in ways that soccer cannot hope to emulate.

I realize that soccer is more popular than baseball in Europe, south of the border and perhaps in the rest of the world. I realize, too, that many liberal progressives look down on baseball as too peculiarly American and prefer soccer because it isn’t. That’s fine, but I resent the government and media promoting this foreign import at the expense of baseball. During the World Cup, the District of Columbia and federal governments have set up screens in public parks and buildings so Americans can gather to watch the games — something they don’t do on Independence Day, or during the World Series to promote baseball. Meanwhile, our schools promote soccer among the nation’s youngsters while fewer and fewer children are playing Little League or rushing out to compete against each other with bat and ball in our parks and on our streets.

Perhaps it’s part of the elite’s drive to Europeanize or at least internationalize our country by downplaying that which is uniquely American while encouraging that which they hope make us a more integral part of some mythical world community. To many of our progressives, that’s exactly why soccer seems so important. Liberal pundit Peter Beinart, for example, told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria as the two celebrated the growing popularity of the game that soccer shows that we are becoming more “open to liking the same types of things that people in other countries do. Things don’t have to be ours and ours alone.” These are guys you probably won’t run into at the major league All-Star Game in Minneapolis next Tuesday.

I don’t like it. I grew up on baseball. My dad took me to major league games, I played Little League and though I wasn’t good enough to play in high school or college, I enjoyed and still enjoy every game I’ve ever attended, regardless of the level or whether my favorite team wins or loses. My kids grew up playing the game as well and loved it. They were better than me, of course, and that made me happy. We often made the trek to Florida to catch a few spring-training games before our favorite team fled to Arizona and its sunny spring skies. I took them to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., as well, and we still text each other on the progress of our favorite team whenever it plays.

Last Friday marked the 75th anniversary of Lou Gehrig’s farewell to his fans at Yankee Stadium on Independence Day in one of the most moving and famous speeches, not only in baseball history, but in U.S. history. The fatally ill Yankee iron man stood humbly before a packed Yankee Stadium and declared himself “the luckiest man on the face of the earth” because of them and the game he loved.

ESPN marked the occasion by rebroadcasting the 1942 “Pride of the Yankees” with Gary Cooper as Gehrig. It was a great film — a paean to baseball and to America, and watching it was a more than fitting way to observe the birthday of the most exceptional nation in the history of the world.

One evening in the ‘90s, I told my nine-year-old I had met Walt Dropo, Rookie of the Year with the Boston Red Sox back in 1950. Dropo played for 13 years, but as my son rolled his eyes, he observed that “the man had only one really good year.” Nine-year-olds back then knew their baseball. They collected Topps baseball cards, followed their teams, and knew more stats than I could ever master. They liked football and some played soccer, but they loved baseball.

I hope they always will.

David A. Keene is opinion editor of The Washington Times.

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