Which athletes seem to have more fun?

Imagine if the Astros’ Alex Bregman hadn’t acted respectfully last Saturday. Imagine if, after hitting that two-run homer against the Phillies, Bregman hadn’t put his head down as he trotted around bases.

Instead, imagine Bregman running down the first baseline and pounding his chest like Steph Curry. Imagine Bregman touching second base, head skyward, shaking his head left and right, screaming like Steph Curry. Imagine Bregman touching home plate and then bringing his two hands together and resting them against his cheek in a sleeping pose, like Curry.

Or imagine a different reaction. Bregman hits the two-run homer and then asks his Astros teammates to leave the dugout and surround him on TV. They strike a pose, show various hand signals and facial expressions — just like they do in the NFL end zone after an interception.

So imagine how attractive the NFL and NBA must be compared to MLB. In particular, imagine the impact on young black Americans, with blacks making up at least 70% of all players in pro football and basketball, but only 7.2% of the players on an MLB roster this season’s opening day.

For the first time since 1950, there is no American-born black player in the World Series. With great emphasis and disgust, Astros exec Dusty Baker began the series by saying, “This looks bad… I don’t know how much hope there is for black kids… Something has to be done before we lose them.” ”

As a kid in Sacramento, Baker idolized Willie Mays, Frank Robinson and Hank Aaron. Today, for a black kid, Mays and Robbie and Aaron might as well be names in the Bible.

There are many reasons, one of which is painfully obvious. A football or basketball player drafted in the first round could be in the opening lineup in their rookie season. Baseball players take time to develop. Even the Great Inflator, Barry Bonds, had to spend 145 games in the minors.

Young people, on the other hand, don’t like to wait, not even for ice cream. Young athletes in particular are drawn to action. Charisma, Sizzle, Juice – call it what you will – involves more than just throwing four touchdowns or hitting 10 Treys. It’s the overall presentation. Appearance is everything, especially for those of us in high school or about to enter it, with a peer group being the judge and jury.

The NFL and NBA are so adept at photo ops that they share gifted moments without apologies. Last Thursday night, Baltimore tight end Isaiah Likely retrieved an onside kick from Tampa Bay, sealing the win for the Ravens with 48 seconds remaining. Probably celebrated by doing The Curry Sleeper, hands linked, placed next to his cheek.

“Yes, I have a lot of teenagers getting perms these days,” my hairstylist said matter-of-factly the other day. “Ever since Patrick Mahomes came into the NFL.”

As a former teenager, I understood the youthful urge to copy, to emulate an athletic hero, although perhaps the only thing I shared with the Chicago Cubs’ Ernie Banks was that we were air-breathing mammals, standing on two legs.

Ah, but the year is 2022, not 1960, and the stage an athlete competes in today is literally a stage. It’s performance art. Charles Barkley didn’t suddenly become Charles Barkley at TNT. He was Sir Charles in front of every mic as a player before settling on TNT. Draymond Green wants to follow Sir Charles.

Unfortunately, baseball has no alternative to politeness. It needs its code. Can’t afford glasses. It takes its home run hitters to keep their heads down while running the bases; it doesn’t need “One Flap Down” as popularized by ex-giant Jeffrey Leonard when he was rounding the bases.

The reason is clear but troubling: the 100-mile fastball. Baseball purports to offer protection. Yes, there are helmets and elbow pads, but that leaves every other area of ​​the human body unprotected. A 100 mile heater in the ribs can sound like breaking glass. A heater on the knees is broken porcelain.

“I missed the field” is baseball’s oldest, lamest, and most useless excuse. But the infield is there and used for punishment when needed.

It’s a disciplinary pitch at best and a judge administering justice at worst. Show disrespect on the field and I’ll show you disrespect on the plate. There isn’t a baseball player anywhere, of any age, who sees a field coming their way and says, “I’m fine. I put my helmet on.”

The NFL player has a helmet, face mask, hip and knee pads and enough duct tape to wrap Christmas presents for the next 20 years. Injuries, especially to the head, happen – but it’s amazing that with so much violence in every game (considering 60 is about the average in a game) a team doesn’t have to replace 25 players every game. But at least the sport makes the effort.

The NBA player has nothing to protect himself except cunning. Which is usually enough. A player taking on an attack expects a soft landing. A player who, like Karl Malone, has sharp elbows will notice and settle for a fleeing punch. Long gone are the days of Bill Laimbeer’s brawls. While the NBA isn’t a game of drafts, it’s not a blood sport.

But every game in the NBA, as well as the NFL, has collisions. MLB doesn’t, unless it’s a two-up slide or a run over the catcher. Freedom from human contact unfolds politeness and politeness. Everywhere else it’s smash and tackle, posterize the dunk. In baseball, you can start a brawl by staring at the pitcher.

All of this attracts young people, especially those who see their idols of similar skin color pounding their chests. Action is the honey for the growing bee. Emotion surges in sight. So does superiority. Why is a young black man worried about breaking a barrier? The NBA and NFL have already done it for him.

All of that and posing for the camera mid-game… screaming like a banshee… dancing like it’s an audition. Gosh, that sounds like fun.

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