By: Dawson Wright
Instead of the sounds that are commonly associated with a high school sporting event (cheerleaders, band, cheers from the student section), the crowd’s ears are filled with the pain of silence, and if they are lucky, some occasional chatter from the field. This is the common scene at a high school baseball game.
The struggle for high school baseball teams to draw the crowd that other major sports like basketball and football have is not only a problem for the schools that surround me locally, but it is a national problem as well. It is also a problem that Major League Baseball should be looking at very carefully as well.
Two years ago I had the pleasure of seeing the #1 ranked high school baseball team in the nation according to Baseball America. The crowd around me seemed dim, almost like a complete contrast to the basketball game I went to about a week before, and both of those basketball teams sucked.
I showed up early, wanting to get the best seat that I could. As game start approached closer and closer, I couldn’t help but check again to make sure this team was number one in the nation, and indeed it was.
As I continued to scan the crowd, I started to notice a trend of who were the people actually attending these games:
- Parents Of The Players
- Other Old People
- Player’s Girlfriends
It was a Friday night, which seems to be primetime for high school sports. How could there not be more people here? I thought to myself. There must be something else going on in town.
I soon learned throughout the course of the season that this type of crowd was common. Not to many people, and the average age was looking north of forty. This is a problem.
Football, basketball and baseball are completely different sports, but the first two seem to have a vibe that baseball does not. The cheerleaders, the student section jumping up and down to the latest hip-hop hit, the band or drumline blaring a song to get the crowd excited. I’ve never seen any of those in a baseball game, well, in America at least.
The Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) is the craziest baseball organization on earth. The crowd is banging their thunder sticks together, cheerleaders are dancing on the dugout, and bats are flipped into orbit after a player hits a home run. The stadiums are a place where fans can have a good time with their friends/relatives, while enjoying the atmosphere around them and the amazing game being played in front of them.
So should high school players start launching their bats into the air and swing while running to first base? As entertaining as that would be, of course not. Baseball in America has a different culture that Korea or even Japan does. Also, players in the U.S. bat-flipping anywhere close to the level of Korean players would promptly earn them a fastball right in the back, even at the high school level.
However, one thing that American baseball at all levels can learn from the KBO is the atmosphere that it creates. It’s exciting, and most importantly, it’s active. Fans of the KBO are engaged in chats and cheers, which keeps even someone who isn’t a fan of baseball engaged. When fans are engaged, they have more fun. When they have more fun, they will want to experience it again, and there is no better level to try this at than high school.
The whole “baseball is boring, old, and slow” thing has been haunting the sport for the last few years, and part of that is due to the terrible experience at most high school games across the country. A lack of students at the games creates a lack of engagement for the students who are at the games. The crowd is filled with parents, and the unrelatable sound of country music and classic rock in between innings and pitching changes doesn’t help either.
As people age, they will stick with a lot of the beliefs and some hobbies they had growing up, and with sports it is no different. People who played little league are more likely to become lifelong baseball fans, and people who think baseball is “boring” and “old” will take that belief and run with it unless they have an altering experience. Currently, that altering experience is a long flight away in Korea, but it doesn’t have to be.
If more high schools across the United States started to treat the baseball games like its a football or basketball game, it would make those games an experience that students and other local sports fans wouldn’t want to miss. This would be quite the change for the high school baseball players themselves as one player I talked to described the current environment as “depressing”. However, I don’t think they would mind the extra crowd and their peers in a loaded student section cheering them on.
Dawson Wright is the Senior Baseball Writer for The Dugout, he covers the San Francisco Giants and Major League Baseball.