By Ryan Mayer, CBS Local Sports
In case you haven’t heard, Chicago Cubs uber-prospect Kris Bryant was called up and made his debut on Friday. It didn’t go exactly as Bryant would have dreamt it, as he went 0-4 with 3 K’s. Since that first appearance Bryant is 6 for 10 with a couple of doubles and 4 RBI. The excitement of the young prospect joining his major league club is one that fans from all teams can relate to. In Bryant’s case, the hope is that he’s more than just the next third baseman for the Cubs. The young man is projected to be one of the top players in the game of baseball for the next 10-15 years.
Projecting baseball prospects is devilishly hard work and there are many examples of top players in the minors flaming out before reaching their potential. When expectations of these players are sky high, many times they can seem to fail to live up to them. I’m rooting for Kris Bryant to succeed. To fulfill the potential that he is believed to have. Not because I’m a Cubs fan, but because I’m a Major League Baseball fan. Having good, young, superstar players that can transcend just the regional fan base is something the sport desperately needs.
With the retirement of Derek Jeter after last season, the final star of my youth has left the game. Jeter was a player that drew me to the TV set even when my team wasn’t playing against him. In the same vein, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey Jr. all drew young people of my generation to watch the game dubbed America’s past-time.
These players were just the next in line of stars throughout the history of the sport. But after the steroid scandals and all that came with them, interest among the younger generation dwindled. I think part of that was due to fans of the sport always wondering who was and who wasn’t on PED’s. We’ve now gotten past the steroid era (for the most part) and enter into a new era with a new commissioner in search of new stars to latch on to. We’ve seen some of them already come up and draw us in. Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Clayton Kershaw, Matt Harvey, Yasiel Puig. We need these players to excel.
Why do we need that? Well, the demographics of the sport aren’t good. The television viewership skews older, and if it were to stay that way, in 20 years the viewership and audience would be gone altogether. The in park numbers are great with the league reporting that attendance for the first two weeks of the season set a new record. The sport isn’t dying, but it isn’t on the same level in national conversation as the NBA, or the NFL.
This is why I’m rooting for Kris Bryant to reach his massive potential. For him to join the ranks of the young superstars we’ve gotten to know the past couple of years and to usher in a new era of baseball that we can be unafraid to point to these stars and tell our kids to go out into the backyard and swing how they swing, mimic their batting stance, or attempt to replicate their wind-up. We’ve emerged from the dark age of our stars constantly being under suspicion whether they had or hadn’t used PED’s. Now, we as fans should hope some of these young kids continue to emerge and grow into the superstars they can be and give us even more reason to turn on the TV and tune into the national past-time even when our team isn’t playing.
Ryan Mayer is an Associate Producer for CBS Local Sports. Ryan lives in NY but comes from Philly and life as a Philly sports fan has made him cynical. Anywhere sports are being discussed, that’s where you’ll find him.