By Frank Long
Baseball has been one of America’s favorite sports for more than a century and a half. The 1920s to the 1990s were seen as the golden ages of baseball. People all over America would put their caps on, head to the stadium, grab a hot dog, sit down and enjoy entertainment at its finest. The popularity of baseball was so intense that there were songs about it, movies about it, and just about every kid and his father would go into the backyard and play catch. Kids grew up idolizing the greats such as Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Ted Williams, Jackie Robinson, and Mickey Mantle. Not only did kids adore the sport, America adored the sport. Everytime the National Anthem was sung throughout the stadium, everyone’s hands and hats were on a one way trip to their heart. After the first pitch was thrown and the words, “play ball” were screamed, Americans and fans all over the world were in their element.
This was how things were for a while. Superstars like Derek Jeter, Ken Griffey Jr, Barry Bonds, and David Oriz lead the younger generations of the sport and proudly contributed to baseball´s reign as America’s favorite sport. Then came the 21st century. The 21st century saw a huge drop off in baseball popularity and player superstardom. The guys I previously mentioned retired from the sport, and younger generations did not seem to take as great of an interest in baseball. The sport was still highly popular in America, but football and basketball were passing it in terms of popularity. With football and basketball being America’s two most popular sports, people were left to question what was the reason for baseball’s loss of interest and why the younger generation was as quick to throw baseball away as a ground ball to the infield. Many believe that the culprit of baseball’s lack of popularity was its slow pace and long run time. Although that is accurate and could be a contributing factor, I believe there is more to it. I believe that a lack of superstars is what is causing the drop of interest in the sport today. For baseball to be able to compete with football and basketball, it is going to need more superstars. Not just superstars within the sport, but national superstars. For a sport to be really big, they need to attract the average person and non-sports fan. An example of this was Joe Montana for the NFL in the 80s and early 90s, and Michael Jordan for the NBA in the 90s. Those players were so captivating and entertaining that they were able to attract people who were not interested in the sport as a whole, but were interested to see them play and put on a show. As of right now baseball doesn’t have that guy. There is Patrick Mahomes in the NFL, and Lebron James in the NBA. Now some of you might disagree with me and say baseball has its guy and its Mike Trout, but the difference is that Mike Trout, as great as he is, can be seen as not as fun to watch and not even close to as popular as Patrick Mahomes or Lebron James. Baseball isn’t in need of great players; they have plenty such as studs like Mike Trout, Jacob deGrom, Clayton Kershaw, Mookie Betts, Ronald Acuna Jr, and Gerrit Cole. What baseball needs is a superstar, a player with flash, explosiveness, and jaw dropping playmaking abilities; he doesn’t have to be the best, but a player who can make people have more interest in the sport and attract more eyeballs.
In the past two years a light has been shining on baseball’s hope of finding their superstar player who will revive the popularity of the game. That light is San Diego Padres ShortStop Fernado Tatis Jr. Fernado Tatis Jr. is a 22 year old phenom on The San Diego Padres. He was born in San Pedro in the Dominican Republic. His father Fernado Tatis was a third baseman in the MLB and played for The New York Mets. After his career, he devoted his time to Fernado and helped him gain a love for the sport. Tatis Jr. with his physical gifts from his father and very good work ethic quickly became an amazing player. As a high school player, Tatis was unbelievable and was getting recognition from ESPN and MLB recruiters. When Fernado Tatis Jr. was 16 years old, he attended multiple MLB camps and scouts were highly impressed. At just 17 years old, he was drafted to play in the Dominican Prospect League and was also a free agent for any MLB teams to sign him. The 17 year old was able to show off his powerful swing, high level fielding, and flashy base running. With amazing performances game after game, Tatis was a star at the Dominican baseball level.
In 2015, Fernado Tatis Jr. achieved his lifelong dream of playing in the MLB as he was signed to the Chicago White Soxs. Following in his father’s footsteps Tatis had made it to the big leagues and was ready to re-write the record books and showcase his skills. After spending some time in the minor leagues, Tatis was ready to play in the majors. Before he was able to The Chicago White Sox’s Organized a trade that would send the rookie to The San Diego Padres. The two years spent in Chicago was over for Tatis and San Diego was his future. As it played out it became obvious that he was San Diego´s future as well. He started off in Minor Leagues playing for The Arizona Padres. After hitting 22 home runs and 78 RBIS, Tatis was becoming a promising young talent. Unfortunately, his season was cut short due to a thumb injury. The next year Fernado Tatis Jr. would go back home and play in the Dominican Baseball League. He had a breakout year and led his team to a victory in the Dominican League Championship. Eager to take the next step in his baseball career, the Dominican League star was ready to play in the MLB.
Fernado Tatis Jr. was just 20 years old when he went to camp with The San Diego Padres. Many people in the organization believed that if he was successful in spring training then he had a great chance of making the Major League team. For Tatis spring training was a great success. On just his last day of spring training, The San Diego Padres had informed him that he would be a big leaguer. Opening Day was marked upon him and he was the youngest player on the team and in the lineup. Tatis was able to knock his first hit on his first at bat against legendary Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner. That was one of many to come as Tatis quickly became an unreal player in the MLB. At just 21 years old, he was making remarkable plays at bat and in the field. The young phenom would make flashy diving catches on ground balls, throw players out with ease, and was known for his beautiful back handed snags of ground balls. Flashy on the field and powerful at the plate, Tatis was hitting huge home run balls, cracking doubles and triples in the gaps, and had smooth head first slides while stealing bases.
Through his first 84 games Fernado Tatis Jr. was all baseball fans and MLB analysists could talk about. He was featured on ESPN multiple times and was all over social media for his unreal plays. Tatis was now considered as a young superstar who had more potential than anyone in the game. Unfortunately, his season would come to an end after an injury in his shoulder. His season may have ended, but his hype and stardom was just beginning. His first year stats were 22 Home Runs, 53 RBIs, 106 hits, on 317 batting average, and he finished a National League rookie of the year finalist. Picking up where he left off and during a pandemic and shortened season nothing seemed to change for Tatis. His play was unreal and could only be described as electrifying. He was put into the conversation of best Shortstops in the game of baseball. Tatis was gaining millions of fans and followers on social media due to his flashy plays and entertaining personality. Through 59 games, Fernado Tatis Jr. had 62 hits, 45 RBIs, 17 home runs, on 277 batting average, and won the silver slugger award for the shortstop position. Tatis made highlight after highlight in an unusual time and was the biggest star in the whole baseball season. Along with Manny Machado, Tatis established himself as the future of a very good San Diego Padres team. Not only did he establish himself as the future of the Padres, but possibly the future of The MLB. The future of the game could be in his hands due to his extreme talent, popularity and his very young age. After his amazing 2020 season, Tatis became the third highest selling jersey in the whole game and labeled as the most exciting player to watch. He has certainly caught the attention of sports and baseball fans, but will he be able to capture the attention of the casual fans and people all around the nation? I believe Fernado Tatis Jr. can. He has already brought more fans to the sport, and is reaching the younger generation as he was on the cover of the new MLB video game, a game that could result in a spike in baseball popularity in the younger generations and the gaming community. Another point to make while considering if he can become the face of the sport is his age. The 22 year old has improved his game every year he has played and has only gotten more popular, the best could be yet to come for him and the state of popularity for the sport, as Tatis can keep getting better and keep attracting more attention from the younger generation and the country as a whole.
With a lot of pressure on him going into the year, Fernado Tatis Jr. would need to perform in a way demonstrating that he is not a fluke and is here to stay. Starting off the year with a rough shoulder injury things were not looking good. Questions about whether or not he would be able to continue the year or need surgery began to spark up. Eventually, Tatis chose not to get surgery and continued to play. After a rough start, Tatis finally got hot and started becoming the superstar baseball needs again. He had an amazing series against the LA Dodgers hitting 5 home runs in 3 games two off of Trevor Bauer and Clayton Kershaw which made him the only player to hit home runs in back to back games off of CY Young winners. With 23 hits, 9 home runs, 14 RBIs, on 240 batting average Tatis is having a good year and was able to pick it up after a slow start. Not only is he starting to pick back up, but the popularity of the game has been back up for the first time in a couple of years. Fernado Tatis Jr. is a huge factor in that increase, with his bat flips, huge home runs and social media antics with Trevor Bauer. At only 22 years old Fernado has a huge chance and all of the ability to take the sport back to where it was and become the face of the sport and a national superstar. The question remains, is Fernado Tatis Jr. the messiah sent from baseball heaven by Babe Ruth and Joe McCarthy to save the game, or is he a spark that is doomed to flame out? Only time will tell; as for now it’s time to hop aboard, fasten your seat belts, hold on tight, and feast your eyes at the Fernado Tatis Jr. hype train.