ONORATO: Celebrating America’s pastime

America has a vast array of traditions, ranging from fireworks on the Fourth to parades on Thanksgiving, from groundhogs in February to mall mania on Black Friday. Among both the conventional and bizarre American traditions, few are as anticipated by sports fans as baseball’s Opening Day. And now Budweiser, Cardinals Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith and over 100,000 Americans are pushing to officially make Opening Day a national holiday.

The petition put forth on WhiteHouse.gov by Budweiser, in conjunction with Smith, has recently garnered the 100,000 signatures necessary for the White House to consider the proposal, which reportedly could take several months.

Baseball has always been considered “America’s pastime,” the sport that defines us, that we have owned on an international stage, and which millions of Americans have grown up loving, playing and following. Made and perfected right here at home, the sport and the experience that baseball offers is uniquely American.

But lately, things seem to be shifting. Football has steadily grown to become perhaps the true fan favorite, and Little Leagues seem to be increasingly replaced by youth lacrosse and soccer. Moreover, baseball growth in the United States seems to have slowed, sending Major League Baseball to Australia for regular season games in what seems to be an attempt to grow its fan base. And baseball’s efforts to grow even on an international level have been somewhat resisted, with baseball losing its status as an Olympic sport.

In spite of what seems like a dip in popularity for America’s pastime, 100,000 Americans have pushed for Opening Day to be nationally recognized. And I think that they are right, and that it’s important.

Baseball has a rich history in our country, producing men, myths and legends that have survived beyond their times. It has roots as a wartime game for men on Army bases, and has grown to a game watched by millions in ballparks around the country each summer.

Part of what makes baseball our pastime is its rich history alone. Few other sports institutions have echoed the breaths of our nation like baseball has. In the height of desegregation, there was Jackie Robinson. In the throes of the World Wars, Ted Williams and many others left the game for their country. And in the wake of 9/11, many found comfort and solace at Shea Stadium.

But beyond the history of the game as our National Pastime, there is something intrinsically American about baseball itself. Playing and perfecting the game requires discipline, resiliency and an immense respect for the sport that are nearly unparalleled. Above all, baseball is a game characterized by failure, and success is defined largely by one’s response to it.

It shouldn’t go unnoticed that baseball is also simply a beautiful game. There are few things as beautiful as a ball park on a summer night, a flawless swing, the crack of a bat or the shuffle of cleats on a dirt infield. It might be a stretch, but I’m willing to contend that baseball makes America more beautiful.

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