Baseball season is here. The green of the grass can be smelt upon the air. The sound of radio announcers giving us the play by play is welcome. And the Cardinals are on their way to their 12th championship.
For those of you, who love this game, this is for you. Reasons to love the game you may have instinctively “known” but not really got your head around are spelled out.
And if you don’t like baseball, maybe this will bring understanding.
1. Baseball is slow and incremental. We live in a fast-food, instant-win, lottery-makes-me-instantly-wealthy culture. So many people think the baseball season should be shorter. they want the beginning of the season and the end of the season closer together so they don’t have to suffer through the slog of the middle. But baseball is like life – all the wins and losses, from beginning to end matter but none are immediately devastating.
2. Anyone can win on any given day. In football and to some degree basketball, there is always an expectation of who will win a game. There are exceptions, of course, But normally there is no surprise if the favored team wins and the one expected to lose, does in fact lose. And people may talk about a favored team’s loss to the underdog for a whole season. But no one does this in baseball. I mean, the Mariners and the Astros could win any day.
3. Baseball and Great Writing.
Some of the best writers have written on the game. There are volumes dedicated to this phenomenon. Serious poets wax eloquent on double-plays and strikeouts. I’m not entirely sure why
but perhaps it’s the rhythm of play, inherent in the game. There is a lot of space and time to think. It’s relaxed. The action is often unseen between the exclamation points.
4. The Rules of the Game. They are clear unlike other sports. In every football game, there is a holding call or pass interference call that could go either way. Even in slow motion, the commentators may disagree. The same is true for basketball…the whole traveling thing is a joke. And was it a charge or a defensive foul? Only slow-mo can tell us. Are there close situation like this baseball? Yes. But they are the exception and not the rule.
5. The Skills of the Tools Required. In every sport you need a number of skills. But in baseball you must know how to swing a bat (unless you’re a pitcher in the wussy American League), catch with a glove, field with a glove, and throw the ball well. None are easy but all are required. Bat, glove, and ball – all tools requiring incredible skill.
6. The Stats.
Every part of the game can be measured. And those measurements not only are enjoyed before the game and during the game, they are still used and enjoyed years later. Indeed, the stats are central. No other sport cares about stats more than baseball. The stats are the proof of what a player and team has done and is the basis of what they may be capable of. You could fill a library of books on the stats. Some are all-important and some are simple curiosities of the game giving them color.
7. The Purity of the Stats. Stats are not just central to the game, they set it apart in their purity. But they are part of the problem in other sports. For example, in football a QB can throw a perfect pass and the receiver can drop it and it counts against the QB’s stats. That’s just stupid. I can think of nothing so ridiculous in baseball. In baseball, if you should have caught it or fielded it or thrown is better and didn’t, it’s an error. Simple as that. There may be arguments over the “should have” but the stats tell the story all things being equal. Unlike a dropped pass in football.
8. The Culture.
Hot dogs, seventh inning stretch, the star-spangled banner, the first pitch, young boys with gloves in the stands hoping for foul balls. All of these and more are inextricably linked to the game though none are required for it’s being played. If you rid the sport of these, something is lost. They are as much monuments of the game as Ruth, Mays, Aaron and Mantle.
9. The Stories. Some are myth and some are true and they are all part of the game. Maybe it’s the story of just one play, a moment in time suspended in history for all of us to enjoy or despair of. In what other sport can you find a book about one hit? And the stories stretch from the central characters like Ruth, Mays and Boggs to the peripheral minor leaguers, their stadiums and the sandlots where the game grew faster than the weeds surrounding them. Maybe the stories are seem so much a part of the game because we time for announcers to tell them between pitches, maybe because they mirror the history of our country. Maybe it’s that baseball draws in all types of personalities giving us so many stories to tell. Regardless, you cannot read long before you get the feeling there is a desire for any story to be untold.
10. The Cards. Not the Cardinals per se. But the cards…baseball cards. I used to pore over mins for hours and hours, reorganizing them by team, then position, then by stats, and sometimes by value. Baseball cards…is there anything sadder than a football card? Besides a basketball card? Maybe hockey cards.