Written by Joe Hubbs and Media by Ryan St. Hill.
Today, baseball is accepted widely on a regional standpoint. In the area of Texas I lived in for the past seven years, almost no one cared at all about what happened in the world of baseball. The fact of the matter is that deep in the heart of Texas, people rave over football, football, football, and more football. When I spoke baseball, I often received that classic in the headlights look. It must have sounded like I spoke in Dutch, because my friends rarely understood what team, or whose statistics I gabbled about endlessly. In my first years in the Lone Star State, this irritated me to death. How could people not know who Hank Aaron, Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, and other Major league legends are, or the current stars at that time, Albert Pujols, Gary Sheffield, and Manny Ramirez. What on earth was wrong with these people? I felt like I had moved to a whole new planet! No doubt, they suffered a terrible case of sports illiteracy.
All of my life, I had known old women, or complete computer nerds who knew nothing about sports, and I grew to expect them to know nothing about sports, but this new type of sports illiteracy was an all-new revelation to me. Originally, my family lived in the part of Illinois smack dab in the middle of Chicago and St. Louis. If you know nothing about baseball like my Texan friends, this portion of Peoria is right in the middle of the heated Cardinals Cubs rivalry. One of my grandfathers is a Cubs fan, and the other a Cardinals fan. My Grandpa Hubbs coached baseball, taught my dad to love it too, and to die hard with the Cardinals. Obviously, I had could not escape receiving the baseball treatment as my father raised me. But would that have been so if I wasn’t born in Midwest baseball country? If my family originated in Texas, would I have the same love of baseball that I do now? Honestly the odds are against it. A longer analysis of my friends in Texas helped me realize this. They were not sports illiterate; they were baseball illiterate.
The only reason I care and know so much about baseball, is because I grew up in a region of the United States where it was the most popular sport. My friends did not. Most of them grew up right there in San Antonio, and football flowed through their veins. While I gargled on endlessly about baseball trivia and the current standings, my friends made the biggest commotion about college football bowl games, and who was projected to be drafted by which NFL team. The toilet flushed in the background. The ball dropped. Slowly, I realized that I was just as illiterate as my friends, but with a different sport. My buddies on my football team could go on all day about what high schools the best college football players came out of, and who they thought had the best chance to win the Heisman trophy that year. I unconfidently shook my head during most of these conversations to avoid showing my complete ignorance on the subject. I knew nothing about college football, and other than quarterbacks and a few other skilled players in the NFL, I did not know very much about the NFL either. I don’t mean to imply that everyone from Texas lusts over football like schoolgirls googly-eye One Direction, or everyone in the Midwest sacrifices lambs for baseball. I simply mean to demonstrate how our region in the United States could somewhat mold
how we view and rank sports in order of importance. Obviously exceptions arise, and the Texas Rangers’ biggest fan is going to come after me after reading this article, but there are social experiments that could easily support a lot of these patterns. Here I am ranting about baseball and football, the popular sports in the states where I have lived. I cannot escape my own bias, but there are some other major patterns in regional sports fandom as well.
Take a look at hockey for example. A large majority of Americans from the central and lower part of the states, west to east probably know little about the rules of the game, and if you mention a name other than that of the Great One, Wayne Gretzky, typically they will not understand your Russian-Canadian lingo. Sadly, I admit that I still belong to this group, but hopefully I can reduce my sports illiteracy on this subject as well. However, the higher north you go in America, through Minnesota, past Wisconsin, and all the way to Canada, hockey is probably the most popular sports. When a ref blows the whistle, making an icing, or offside call, the people know precisely what it means. While a lot of us in Illinois, and especially southern states like Texas and Louisiana probably couldn’t care less about the sport on ice, the fans up there view the Stanley Cup trophy as the most prestigious honor in sports.
In several other regions of the US, fans go mad over sports that nobody would dream of wasting their time watching in others. For some southern states, the continuous left turns in a NASCAR race electrify the soul more than any religious retreat. Take a trip to Indiana, and you should learn how to shoot a slick jump shot from all the locals, ecstatic about their Hoosiers and Pacers. It is inescapable and undeniable. And everything aforementioned only describes American regional fandom.
In Europe and South America, fans flock for rugby, and the most popular sport worldwide, soccer. An arguably large amount of Americans find soccer boring, paying no attention to the highest paid athletes in the world, but across the world, the men and women competing in the sport probably have more recognition than the current Lebron James, Tiger Woods type athletes in America. Each area in has a dominant sport that grasps the emotions of the fans living there. Sports illiteracy of other sports in each place is also inevitable, as our strong feelings towards one sport captivates obsession more than the others. No matter how illiterate to baseball my friends in Texas were, I know I used to share the same lost feeling about college football, and we all basically had a veil over our eyes when the phrase “hockey, eh” flew into the air. In all regions, and all countries we are geniuses of a sport, and likewise, we are illiterate.