This weekend America celebrates the most precious rite of spring as, like the blooming of flowers and the appearance of sunshine, the regular baseball season begins. Here in New York, we’ve got two new beautiful stadiums for our teams to enjoy and high hopes of success for both the Yankees and the Mets. But right now all thirty teams are 0-0, so whether you root for the Washington Nationals or the Kansas City Royals, everybody’s entitled to dream of pennants and the World Series.
But for some Americans, our national pastime is taking a back seat to that game that everybody else in the world thinks is grand: soccer. On Tuesday, the New York Times chose to interrupt its baseball coverage with a feature about how much they love soccer in that haven of high-tech and counter-culture, Seattle.
It’s a free country and if grownups want to pretend that what others call football is a game that you pay to watch rather than something that little children do for exercise, that’s okay. Soccer is a popular youth sport since it involves very little equipment and requires children to do little more than run around trying to kick a ball. But it’s been a very hard sell for Americans as a pro sport.
Lots of decent Americans like the game and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, I think the fact that the number one sport in the world is so unpopular here is a fine symbolic expression of American exceptionalism.
But the Times piece is a reminder of just how alien pro soccer is to Americans. Soccer fans here are forced to root for American teams that have names ending with the initials FC (Football Club). Other team names are distinct echoes of other foreign sports traditions, and feature the word “United.” Fans also wear scarves with their team colors, just like the Euros. In other words, the whole deal is a phony European import that will never succeed as an American game despite all the puffery it gets from the mainstream media.
As the season begins on Sunday, let the cry of “play ball” resound throughout this fair land, and by that I mean baseball and not a game in which fans have to pretend to be Europeans in order to properly enjoy themselves.