by Pete Mazzaccaro

This week’s issue is an unofficial sports issue. It’s not planned – just the way the stories worked out.

From columns by Clark Groome and new running columnist Dante Zappala to cover stories on Chestnut Hill’s squash prowess and a historic win by Chestnut Hill Youth Sports Club’s American Legion League team, we are nearly cover to cover concerned with athletes and the games they play.

In one way, there’s a lot of range to these stories.

Our intern Garrison Xian writes about what makes Chestnut Hill – and Northwest Philadelphia in general – a powerhouse in the national squash circuit. For many readers, I suspect, this news might even come as a surprise. Squash? Who plays squash?

Xian, a rising senior at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy is working here as part of the annual, Anna Fisher Clark Memorial internship, a decades-old program administered by the Chestnut Hill Community Fund for the Clark family. (Xian is joined this summer by fellow Chestnut Hill resident and recent Central High graduate Siobhan Gleason. Xian has been struck by the area’s talent pool and tradition. As he notes in his piece, squash is growing in popularity and expanding ever so slowly out of the country clubs and into public venues where more students can find, play and excel at the sport.

On the other hand, the CHYSC’s victory is in a sport that is a longtime American tradition: baseball. The club’s participation is a tradition 38 years old in a league that is much older. Is there anything more American than playing baseball in an American Legion league?

While it was a great win for Chestnut Hill, it has me wondering again about the future of baseball in this country – a sport I’ve watched my whole life.

Baseball is still very popular, but seems to lose its luster with every passing year. (It doesn’t help that the local MLB team is terrible.) It’s a sport that continues to lose “mind-share” to new sports like squash and lacrosse and up-and-comers like soccer (As Keith Olbermann quipped at the conclusion of this year’s World Cup, “Soccer is the sport of the future every year.”)

On soccer, a recent poll by ESPN found that the same number of 12- to 17-year-old kids who identify themselves as fans of Major League Baseball are fans of Major League Soccer. The first time America’s Pastime has fallen so low. This result follows my own scientific polling of my 7-year-old son who didn’t hesitate for a second when asked which team he’d rather see play – the Phillies or MLS’s Philadelphia Union. It was Union. No contest.

And it’s all about star power. American kids still like the NFL and NBA better than anything else, but MLS is set to become sport number three over baseball and hockey in the next year or two. It’s an amazing trend and one that will likely transform the youth sports leagues of the future.

I don’t expect to see an American Legion Soccer League any time soon (or a squash league, either). And to be honest, that’s fine. I don’t want baseball to go anywhere. But those games of summer that are so definitive of our young people and our communities are changing. Slowly, but surely.