What's more American: baseball or rodeo?

Both sports have their place in American history and culture, but which is the most American? Two sports-specific journalists face off.
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Both sports have their place in American history and culture, but which is the most American? Two sports-specific journalists face off.
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Rodeo

With all due respect, the sport of baseball (and all mainstream sports, for that matter) represents what’s wrong with America. We’ve become so obsessed with celebrity and sport that the phenomenon has actually been named: parasocial interaction, defined as a situation where one party knows a great deal about the other but the other does not. These types of “relationships” typically occur between fans (short for fanatic) and celebrities.

Stephanie Bennett, Ph.D., an associate professor of communication and media studies at Palm Beach Atlantic University in Florida, has studied parasocial interaction and writes: “High drama, cropped frames, careful shot selection, close-ups of facial expression—all these techniques [of television] served to slowly change public perception of what it means to be close. But instead of ‘up close and personal,’ we became distant and mediated.”

This is basically how I feel about mainstream sports and our relationship to sports figures. Rodeo, on the other hand, is not a canned experience. Most Americans who attend rodeos enjoy them as pure spectacles that represent an important, albeit small, niche of the American fabric. It’s a two-hour diversion from everyday life—which is what all sports should be—not a defining part of personhood. Rodeo fans don’t hitch their happiness to how a team performs or create an identity based on specifically-colored laundry. In fact, many in the stands are cowboys themselves or identify with the cowboy way of life. Nor is there an obsession with particular rodeo athletes.

Mainstream sports, including baseball, have outgrown their proper role in society—mere diversion—to a point where they’re causing damage. Rodeo is still real. I hope it stays that way. Americans need more reality.

Bob Welch owns horses, runs cattle, and roots for the Colorado Rockies in a healthy way.

Baseball

Baseball is the national pastime. It’s the “grand old game.” And on Sundays in Major League ballparks across the country, players and fans stand for the seventh-inning stretch to sing “God Bless America.” Baseball is peanuts crunched underfoot, not manure squished under boot. Baseball is a romance, compared to rodeo’s one-night stand. It’s patient and to be savored, absent of violence. Whereas roughstock rides are eight seconds or else, baseball is so slow that anybody can watch it (and so thoughtful and insightful that it even provides innings for convenient bathroom breaks). The games are held in relaxing venues called “yards” that feature manicured grass, precise lines, and clever designs that dare us to dream about riding a magical Toro—not the bucking kind.

Nothing says “U.S.A.” more than having a cold beer and a hotdog delivered to your seat and passing change from stranger to stranger across the aisle. Baseball, like an engine, is perfectly calibrated—it’s a mix of beauty and competition, capitalism camouflaged by brown dirt, (human) spit, and white foul lines. Baseball mirrors our national principles: It’s a series of solo performances in concert, forcing the players to contribute independently to the team as a whole. And if the family is the cornerstone of America, then baseball cements those relationships, providing unique bonding moments between parents and children. Backyard games of catch remind us of the simple things that matter most, like making time for each other.

Sure, today’s baseballs are made in Costa Rica, and many gloves are manufactured in Taiwan, but the game is still ours. And nobody goes to the ballpark in a hurry. There’s no shot clock; heck, there’s no clock. The object of baseball is simple: to go home. What is more American than that?

Troy Renck is a sports writer for the Denver Times.