You’re already training your kids to hate Kevin Durant for destroying the NBA’s parity for the next decade and they’ve become your secret weapon for finding fantasy football sleepers. But, no matter how hard you try, you just can’t get your kids to give a shit about baseball.
And really, how can you blame them? There are tons of reasons why a kid might love to watch a sport, but the most fundamental thing is that the game has to be fun. Basketball and football obviously have their respective issues, but neither struggles to create an environment filled with larger-than-life personalities that are thrilling to watch both on and off the field. Modern baseball is boring. There’s very little to lure kids in besides bat day, mascots, and mediocre renditions of “take me out to the ballgame.” Pacing is slow and players are boring — bound by their own personalities or the rules of the clubhouse.
Well, most of them. If there’s one player who can get kids to think baseball is entertaining, it’s Bryce Harper.
The National’s star is a damn good player. But he’s also an unapologetic, enthusiastic, weird dude who genuinely loves the game of baseball. He swaggers up to the plate and swats home runs. He wears a Miami Vice suit to the All Star game And he attracts as many supporters as he does shit talkers because he has opinions and is sort of a douche. Can he sometimes act like an egomaniacal pain in the ass? Duh. But the dude may just save baseball by daring to have a personality.
First thing’s first. Bryce Harper is good at baseball. Midway through his sixth season, Harper has firmly established himself as one of the best all-around players in the league. He’s already been named to five all-star games and was even named the NL MVP in 2015. And, as he’s only 24, it feels safe to say he’s going to be one of the most dynamic baseball players for a long time.
And believe it or not, that’s exactly what baseball needs. Don’t believe me? Bryce basically shared that exact sentiment in an interview last year, saying baseball is a tired sport because “you can’t express yourself.”
Take a look at the offering. Does Mike Trout, arguably the best player of the last 20 years, take pride in being as dull as humanly possible? Is Clayton Kershaw capable of showing any sign of happiness as he continues to have one of the most impressive careers in league history? How is the only major sport that still has bench-clearing brawls less interesting than watching an old guy in a visor tap a ball into a tiny hole? Do the unwritten rules of baseball include players acting like robots?
On the field, there is a lot to like about baseball right now. The league is filled with incredible young talent and tons of storylines that are every bit as thrilling as basketball or football. Baseball is still a fun sport to watch, but Major League Baseball has the incomprehensible goal to suck all the fun out of the game.
This is why Harper is so damn compelling to kids. Because he has the goods on and off the field. To sell your kid on baseball, you need a player that brings some much-needed personality to the plate.
David Ortiz recently wrote a great piece for The Player’s Tribune where he talked about the things he would change about baseball. Unsurprisingly, they mostly seemed to revolve around his frustration with baseball’s lack of fun. Due to outdated, “unwritten” rules, things like joy and silliness are seen as “not respecting the game.” As though enjoying yourself and taking something seriously are mutually exclusive concepts.
Harper isn’t afraid to show he’s having a good time. If you watch him, he clearly loves playing the game and won’t apologize. He even looks like he’s having fun, which is a real change of pace from what you’re used to seeing on the diamond. Should he be your kid’s role model? Maybe not, but he could be the bridge that helps your kid not groan every time you put a baseball game on. Because whether you love Bryce or hate him, you can’t deny he’s interesting, and that is one thing baseball needs a lot more of.