Fast and wild and totally sick, the X Games are everything that baseball is not.
They're about kids and teenagers dragging their parents to the event, not the other way around.
They're about cheap thrills and free seats, not $150 for a family of four.
They're about the future, not the past.
They're about fun, not sour talk of a strike.
The X Games ended Monday night with another huge crowd pushing attendance for the five-day event in Philadelphia to more than 200,000. The Phillies have to play 10 games to get that many fans.
It's been fascinating the last few days, channel surfing between sports -- the X Games, the PGA Champion-ship, NFL preseason games, Little League, major league baseball, tennis -- adjusting to the varying pace of each.
There was the slow but compelling drama of Rich Beem playing the kind of go-for-the-flag golf that has to be played to beat Tiger Woods. As soon as the PGA ended on CBS, the X Games began in prime-time on ABC with bikers and skateboarders whirling through the air, spinning, flipping, doing fantastic tricks with exotic names.
If you haven't seen a ''Superman'' on a motorcycle -- the rider releasing both legs, stretching out his body while holding onto the handlebars 30 feet in the air -- you haven't lived.
Tony Hawk, the Babe Ruth of skateboarders, won the vert doubles on the half pipe with Andy Macdonald after an amazing board switch. Macdonald skated up the ramp, with Hawk standing on the landing above. After his partner took off, Hawk handed Macdonald another skateboard, and, still in midair, Macdonald replaced the board under his feet with the one he had been given.
The announcer at the X Games keeps revving up the fans, imploring them to get ''totally Richter,'' and they oblige by pounding and screaming and shaking the arena as if an earthquake hit. They don't come to see who wins or loses as much as to witness a spectacle of speed and daring and crazy stunts.
Or, as one fan, 16-year-old Joe McGinty of New Jersey, put it: ''I like to watch people fall. It's funny.''
The audience for extreme sports is obviously different from the one for golf, but both the X Games and the PGA could claim success on television this weekend. The X Games were a hit with their targeted fans -- the young males who are so elusive and fickle -- and the PGA had its second-best rating since 1986.
Baseball players can walk out next week and most of the kids who are X Games fans would hardly notice. Neither would a lot of their parents.
And they're not the only ones who will shrug. Plenty of diehard baseball fans are vowing to turn away from the game for good if there's another strike. Football, the nation's most popular spectator sport, is starting up. Basketball and hockey are almost here. The U.S. Open starts its two-week run next Monday. There are movies and, soon, a new season on television. The nation will survive.
''It's one of the great risks that baseball's going to run here,'' says Neil Pilson, a sports consultant and former CBS Sports president. ''There are so many other opportunities for leisure time that if people get out of the habit of watching baseball or going to games, inevitably there will be a dropoff when, and if, baseball resumes.''
Commissioner Bud Selig and the owners know that. So do the players and their union boss, Donald Fehr. They just seem incapable of cutting a deal and intent on cutting their own throats.
''Baseball's not going to be ruined by a strike,'' Pilson observes correctly. ''It's just going to suffer another setback. It's going to go back to where it was several years ago, struggling to recover from the last strike.
''The public has come to see baseball as a troubled sport and has very little sympathy for either the players or the owners.''
The economy stinks and just about everybody has seen their savings shrink. Their eyes glaze over when they read about baseball's labor negotiations and they couldn't care less about a luxury tax. The anniversary of Sept. 11 is coming up and the country is still jittery. All sports fans want is some unfettered fun.
The X Games give that to their fans. Tiger Woods gives it to his, even if for one marvelous tournament, Rich Beem ambushed him. Football, tennis, NASCAR and the rest are going on without a hint of trouble.
Only baseball can't figure out that if the players walk out on the owners, they walk out on the fans, too, and weaken whatever chance they have of winning over those kids whizzing by on skateboards and bikes.
Steve Wilstein is a national sports columnist for The Associat-ed Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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