Making some summer sports observations

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Some general summertime sports observations, while lamenting over how quickly the season seems to fly by after July 4.

We think of the Independence Day holiday, and what comes to mind is the ultimate in Americana: baseball, hot dogs, apple pie … fireworks. Certainly, many baseball fans will visit a ballpark this week or tune into a game on TV or online; or enjoy youth all-star tournaments.

n NASCAR heads back to Daytona for the holiday weekend, marking the second half of the season and the second race for Dale Earnhardt Jr. as part of the NBC broadcast team. Earnhardt received positive reviews after his debut race in the booth at Chicagoland, providing a healthy mix of experience and knowledge, sprinkled with a respect for the sport’s history that few others can as eloquently put into words.

The racing powers-that-be must be hoping that NASCAR’s longtime most popular driver serves as jumper-cables to a sport that has seen its energy draining for years now.

Overnight television ratings from Earnhardt’s debut show a 14 percent increase over the 2017 race; but just as telling is the metrics on Junior’s post-race broadcast posted to Twitter, which racked up nearly 88,000 views in less than 24 hours.

Perhaps the most promising review was Earnhardt’s himself, saying he had “fun, fun, fun,” which hopefully means he’ll be providing his insights and star power to NASCAR broadcasts for many years to come.

n While Americans focus on our summertime sports, the world is tuned in elsewhere. For the first time in three decades, the USA is not competing for the biggest prize in men’s soccer, after failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, now under way in Russia.

Will this absence set back American soccer? Quite likely, yes, perpetuating to the ongoing question of why the sport that is most popular around the globe is still struggling to truly take hold in the United States, despite the success of the U.S. women.

Cost of participation, particularly for youth travel programs, may be a factor, along with weaknesses in the grassroots efforts across the states. Children in other countries learn from more experienced coaches in many cases and have greater cultural support and facilities infrastructure than many places in the USA; and it’s still competing with the beloved American football.

We can hope that this year’s miss will provide a much-needed wake-up call to the U.S. men’s team, but it will probably take another couple of World Cup cycles for America to get back what we’ve lost.

n In another part of the planet, Serena Williams is back in England, after her star-studded appearance at the Royal Wedding this spring. Williams returns to the famed grass of Wimbledon.

It wouldn’t be surprising if the tennis legend outshines even her friend, the Duchess of Sussex, on the way to her eighth championship at the All-England Club.

Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at kellie@bedfordcountychamber.org. Her column appears on Tuesdays.

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