The presence of new leaves already sprouting coupled with snow melting across the country are sure signs of spring. On the sports scene, those weather phenomena also say that America’s pastime is finally back after what seemed — to fans, at least — a very long off-season.
Baseball brings together people of many backgrounds from all parts of the world; this year, a record 21 countries are represented on Major League Baseball’s opening day rosters, as Reuters reported. In an era in which the political climate is divided, the game remains an integral part of American culture, and its rules have been nearly untouched over the 100 years.
Its unifying qualities should be no surprise, though. Baseball spread throughout the country during the Civil War as Union soldiers traveled south and west, bringing the game with them. When the U.S. was at its most divided, the game brought people together and helped them take their minds off troubling, real-world issues. It brought joy and relaxation to their lives during a bleak time in American history.
Fast-forward over 150 years — and baseball is a multibillion-dollar industry in the U.S. Fourteen million people played baseball or softball in the U.S. in 2017, according to Statista, and 30 major league teams alone sold 72.7 million tickets in 2017, according to TechRepublic — showing that taking the family out to the ballpark is still a popular activity.
Plus, families still have the more affordable options to check out minor league, college, high school and men’s league games. All of the statistics point to the same notion: Baseball is still incredibly popular.
This year’s MLB season — which began March 29 — should be a special one for the game.
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim will try to make 23-year-old Japanese phenom Shohei Otani, a pitcher and designated hitter, into the first successful two-way player since Babe Ruth. The Angels have made the playoffs once this decade (2014), so this should help make them relevant on the national scene once again.
The New York Yankees could set the record for most home runs by an MLB team in a single season. After all, they had the American League home run leader last year in Aaron Judge (52 home runs), plus they added 2017 National League home run leader Giancarlo Stanton (59 home runs) — who had already clubbed an MLB-high 241 homers last season.
According to the league’s website, the 1997 Seattle Mariners have the all-time single season home run record with 264. The addition of Stanton could help put the team over that mark since he is replacing Matt Holliday, who popped 19 home runs last season, as the team’s designated hitter.
The New York Yankees could set the record for most home runs by an MLB team in a single season.
That’s a difference of 40 home runs between the two.
Plus, the defending World Series champs, the Houston Astros — who played an integral role in their city’s recovery process from Hurricane Harvey — still have virtually the same roster as they did last season.
That said, OddsShark has them favored to win the World Series yet again, giving them a +425 money line.
Regardless of what happens this season, there are bound to be plenty of memorable moments, whether’s it a no-hitter, record broken or feel-good story. There’s a reason why a league that was founded 115 years ago still exists, is widely popular in America and will continue to be popular.
When there are 162 games in a six-month span, teams have a new opportunity almost every day to prove their doubters wrong — which leads to plenty of unpredictable moments and excitement for fans of every team.
Tom Joyce is a freelance writer from the South Shore of Massachusetts. He covers sports, pop culture, and politics and has contributed to The Federalist, Newsday, ESPN, and other outlets.