I love football and basketball, but baseball’s always been my favorite sport. There’s something that’s always struck me about the Americaness and timeless nature of the game. So this column isn’t necessarily about which sport is better than the others, but moreso about the different systems that they provide us in terms of getting athletes ready for prime time. Football and basketball are by far the two biggest NCAA sports. As a country, we’re as engrossed with college football Saturdays as we are with NFL Sundays. The 50 million college bowl games are all covered with national attention, especially the BCS bowl games and national title game. The NCAA basketball tournament rivals only the Super Bowl in terms of national media attention. The college basketball regular season and conference tournaments are almost just as big.
All of this aside, college football and basketball currently act as proving grounds for the NFL and NBA. We’re currently seeing many young players in both sports that are drafted and are then in the starting lineup on Opening Day. While I personally don’t believe in starting a rookie in the first game, we see quarterbacks such as Joe Flacco today who have the necessary moxie to play right off the bat. John Wall of the Washington Wizards would also be in this category; Wall was drafted #1 overall this past off season. Why is this, and why is it a phenomenon we’re seeing only now? In the past ten years (in my opinion), college sports have become increasingly more professional. Coaches are true coaches as opposed to phys ed teachers who know a thing or two about football or basketball. Many players are ready to start in their leagues right off the bat, and that wasn’t always been the case.
So why isn’t this the case in baseball? Guys such as Brian Matusz, Matt Wieters, Jake Arrieta, Nick Markakis, etc. all spent time in the minors prior to coming up to the show. As I infered, college baseball doesn’t get near the noteriety that football or basketball does. Furthermore, many major league players (ie-Cal Ripken Jr) don’t even go to college. The difference is that baseball has the minor league system, which effectively acts as the NCAA does for football and basketball. The Orioles’ most recent top draft choice, Manny Machado, is 17 years old. Odds are that he won’t go to college, but he’ll probably spend between 2-4 years in the minor leagues. Most college athletes spend that amount of time playing in college, so effectively it’s the same idea. In the case of a guy like Matt Wieters, he went to college, but he also spent less than two years in the minor leagues. It all depends upon the maturity of the player, however if college baseeball ever got to the level of basketball or football, I suspect that the minor leagues as we know them would fall by the wayside. I’m not suggesting that one way or the other is better, however the fact is that each system is what it is.