America's favorite past time, rounders, "the best game in the world" (accordingly to The Babe); whatever you call it, the game of baseball has nostalgia. A timeless quality that pleasingly resides in today's fast-paced, technologically induced world. Purists of the sport vow to preserve the game's integrity. While others, including Major League Baseball's own commissioner, are committed to improving the game's pace and action. The logic is simple. Progress.
And in 2016, baseball experienced the opposite, in two areas:
1. The average length of a game increased by four minutes, and
2. Waning rates in youth league participation
Any sporting Commissioner and League owner know the success in the future of your franchise lies in the penetration of our youth. Meaning, if you play the game when you're younger, the likelihood that you will participate as a fan or even if lucky, as a professional, increases immensely.
To that end, Manfred has enacted a number of measures such as the automation of the intentional walk (instead of a 4-pitch walk, it will move to a dugout signal, saving about 1 minute of dead time per walk), and a two-minute limit on replays.
League rules the aside, many companies founded on the tradition of the sport are also seeking reinvention.
Topps, a baseball trading cards company, adapted their business model and introduced several new products to their card rotation. Continuing its successful pilot last season, "Topps Now" captures big and memorable events in newly made cards. The cards are then released the following day and sold on the Topps website with a window of just 24 hours.
A testament to product performance last season was producing Bartolo Colon's 1st career home run at the age of 42 over San Diego. Topps Now sold 8,826 Colon cards at $9.99 each, in 24 hours, outselling every other one made that season.
Additionally, an expansion of its "First Pitch" lineup, which features action shots of celebrity first pitches at ball games such as William Shatner, Joan Jett, and Lou Ferrigno are contemporizing the brand. As well as a reintroduction of the "Material Relic" cards, which include pieces from specific player uniforms.
This year's No. 1 card is Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant, who was selected by the fans in just the second year of the Vote for No. 1 Card contest. I had the opportunity to ask the Cubbies third baseman his opinion of the pending changes to the game and player's responsibility in engaging the younger demographic.
"For me, as a tall guy I love it," said Bryant in response to his opinion on elevating the strike zone (he's listed at 6'5"). In response to engaging a younger generation of fans, "I think as players it's our responsibility to act as role models," said Bryant, "in-person and especially in social media where kids spend the most of their time."
In addition to a 2016 World Series Championship ring, the Chicago Cubs achieved the pinnacle of global recognition at this year's Laureus World Sports Awards in Monaco. As an attendee of the event, I watched Cubs Owner Tom Ricketts accept the prestigious World Team of The Year award. Shattering their 108-year championship drought in epic fashion, captured not only the hearts of the city of Chicago but also countries and cultures around the globe. Proof that the pulse of a seemingly slow-paced, 200-year-old game can be felt with nations and generations to come.
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