• 72°

The world can have soccer, we’ll keep baseball

The world is enthralled with the World Cup. I guess the name is appropriate.

Here in Brookhaven? Not so much. At least not in obvious ways. I’m sure there were literally dozens of locals glued to their TVs and iPhones, watching Lionel Messi and Argentina lose to Croatia in group play Thursday.

Dozens may be overestimating it. Maybe tens of people.

That number can swell into the hundreds when an army of 7-year-olds take to the pitch for a rec league soccer game at Hansel King. So it’s not that soccer is still a foreign sport. We understand the game. We like watching our kids play it. But that may be as far as it goes.

I blame the sport’s late arrival to much of Mississippi. It’s just not ingrained in our culture the way other sports are. Some of us may have played soccer growing up, but few of us had a hero on the soccer field. At least I didn’t.

Quick, name someone who plays professional soccer not named Messi, Pele or Ronaldo. Tough isn’t it?

Brookhaven and Mississippi may not be the heart of soccer fandom, but we’ve got something better. Baseball.

Mississippi is a baseball state, contrary to what folks in the stands on Friday nights will tell you. Football has its place, but it’s only a close second. Need proof?

Mississippi State owns the top 10 NCAA attendance records for college baseball.  Ole Miss and USM do pretty well, too. Ole Miss ranked No. 2 in average attendance with 8,545; State was No. 4 with 7,962; and USM was No. 16 with 3,369 this past season, according to media reports.

Football may draw a bigger crowd, but nowhere in the country are fans as passionate about baseball as right here in Mississippi. And we’ve got the success to show for it. Just look at this season. Even when the two better of the big three teams slipped, another Mississippi team stepped up. No one thought State would be in Omaha this year, but it’s not that surprising.

Put an MSU football team in the same place and the country will go bananas. Opposing fans will ask, “Who is Mississippi State?” Sports announcers will call them the “Mississippi Bulldogs” or some other mash-up of State and Ole Miss. But not when it’s baseball.

When it’s baseball, it’s just not that unexpected.

We may not can rattle off professional soccer players’ names, but most of us can name a dozen or two baseball players — or more. Most of us can probably name a team we watched and rooted for growing up. Some of us could name the entire roster.

For me, it was the Atlanta Braves. I can still picture Sid Bream sliding into home in the 1992 National League championship series, beating the throw by Barry Bonds to win the game. There aren’t many of us with a memory of soccer seared into our brains in such detail.

If the magic of technology would tell us exactly how many people in Mississippi have tuned in to the World Cup, no one would be surprised that it’s low, really low.  But I wonder how many people watched State’s 2 p.m. game with Oregon State Friday? I’m guessing there were offices full of baseball fans, with employees watching on their phones and computers, hoping not to get caught.

I’m guessing there were more Mississippians tuning in to that single, mid-day game than will tune in for a month’s worth of World Cup games.

The world can have soccer. In Mississippi, we’ll keep baseball.

Publisher Luke Horton can be reached at luke.horton@dailyleader.com.