My curiosity for baseball guides this column every week, for better or worse. Your curiosity for baseball appears to me as a mirage, changing its shape and form on a moment’s notice. Over a decade those moments can add up. What guided fans’ curiosity in the 2010s?

To answer that question, I turned to Google. The 2010s were the first decade in which our inquisitive nature coalesced around a single online search engine. Search trends shifted with each new year. I used Google’s Trends tool to view how often we searched for “baseball” over the last 10 years. Then I looked at every related search term by year.

The results were eye-opening, at least from this corner of the baseball universe. This method isn’t good at capturing the popularity of individual players or even individual teams (to a degree; more on that later). It excels at exposing regions of baseball fandom that are potentially overlooked from an MLB-centric viewpoint. Starting with …

College baseball

This was the only baseball-adjacent query that ranked in Google’s top five every year this decade. It’s a testament to the enduring popularity of a game that’s long thrived regionally, if rarely on the national level. Google might also be offering us a clue to a question that has puzzled proponents of the minor league game. Namely: how would baseball survive in non-MLB markets if 42 minor league teams are contracted, as has reportedly been proposed?

Take Iowa. The state is home to several minor-league teams possibly on the chopping block, and only one Division I program. Iowa’s number-1 baseball-adjacent search term, by far, was “Iowa baseball.”

Within Iowa, according to Google, these terms dwarfed interest in “fantasy baseball,” “baseball scores,” or the nearest major league team, the Cubs. (Note that regional searches for “Cubs baseball” might be driven by the Iowa Cubs, a Triple-A team based in Des Moines.)

On a national level, one college program stood above all as Google’s most popular. Color me purple, it’s …

LSU baseball

LSU first cracked the top 25 in 2015, at number 24. A number-23 rank followed in 2016, followed by 19th, 21st, and 18th.

Success was loosely correlated to the Tigers’ popularity. They haven’t won a national championship since 2009. They only made the College World Series in two of the last five years. Baton Rouge is more famous for football, but its baseball audience might be even more captive, relatively speaking.

Only three other college baseball programs reached Google’s Top 25 in the 2010s: Arkansas at number 18 in 2018 (when it won the national title), Florida at number 23 in 2018 (when it was eliminated by Arkansas in the College World Series semifinals), and Michigan at number 24 in 2019 (when it lost the national championship game).

One other college program might be even more popular than the mighty Tigers. Allow me to present the curious case of …

Texas baseball

These terms graced the Google Top 25 in eight of the last 10 years. It’s the only state that so monopolized its baseball popularity. This could mean a lot of things.

Texas is a hotbed for high school baseball. There are several outstanding college programs in Texas, too, and Texas, Texas Tech and Texas A&M each have “Texas” in their school name. Perhaps Google is lumping their search power into one Texas-sized result. Throw in the Texas Rangers, and it’s hard to tease out the individual threads of curiosity. I needed to dig deeper.

When we look only at searches for “baseball” within the state of Texas over the last 10 years, a clearer picture emerges. The most popular region for baseball searches within the state was Lubbock, home of the Texas Tech Red Raiders. Austin, home to the University of Texas, ranked seventh. Dallas (sixth) and Houston (11th) generated a disproportionately small number of baseball searches in the 2010s.

As with Iowa, it seems, we’re underestimating the popularity of Division I baseball in Texas’ non-urban pockets. All of which makes you wonder, is anyone searching for MLB teams?

Of course!

If I’m curious about, say, the Yankees, I’m not searching for “Yankees baseball.” The search term “Yankees” was more popular than “baseball” in Oct. 2017 and 2019. (The Yankees were playing in the American League Championship Series both months.) Google queries for other team-specific names, like Dodgers and Red Sox, followed a similar pattern.

Non-team-specific names revealed the fickle nature of fandom. “Twins baseball” enjoyed a surge in 2010, when the team won 94 games and the AL Central title, then dropped out of the Top 25 for the remainder of the decade. “Rangers baseball” and “Giants baseball” peaked in 2010, too. “Cubs baseball” peaked in 2016. Nothing terribly unpredictable there.

Miscellaneous

“Little League Baseball” retains a popular fascination, as the folks at ESPN might attest. Incidentally, “ESPN baseball” is popular among Googlers too. “Baseball cards” might have lost their luster if exposed to too much sunlight, but not on Google.

The persistent popularity of “Angels baseball” might have something to do with Google’s fascination with non-baseball-playing Angels. “Mike Trout” was a more popular search term on its own. 

The baseball universe is a broad one – if you know where to look.

LA Daily News