Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Baseball, the sport that makes sports sports

I greatly enjoy the game of baseball. Not just a single game...but the whole idea. It's formal, it has tradition, it demands respect. From baseball cards to summer nights with the game on the radio to seeing a random set of lights with a random set of little leaguers underneath, it all warms my heart. It places a great importance on numbers, which should offer assistance in predicting future performance and then it goes the exact opposite direction. The Marlins win the World Series, and my local team, the Rangers, lose the best player in the game (that situation still irks me) and their best pitcher (not saying much, but still...) and transform from one of the worst in the league to a serious playoff contender. Huh? There are very knowledgeable baseball people in the town who predicted they would lose 100 games, and I could find no reason to disagree. But now, the fact that they lead the division and the wild-card race at the half-way point of the season produces a sort of glee that is hard to describe. Then add to this fact, that over the weekend they had 5 players named to the all-star team. What? The most ever for the team. Every time you think you've got this game figured out it doinks you on the head and runs off into the night laughing a devilish cackle.
I believe it takes some knowledge to appreciate the beauty in something, and that includes sports...especially baseball. Admittedly, baseball does not deliver the amount of purely athletic exhibition as some others sports. It does not have the power of football, the high-flying acrobatics of basketball, the speed of hockey, or even the extra element in a sport like soccer that makes you bemusedly say to yourself,"They're able to do that without using their hands!" It does have some amazing examples of all those, but in spurts. The power to hit a ball 500ft, the blazing speed to go from second to home on a bunt(I've seen it), the leaping catch to bring a ball back from over the fence, and the skill for the catcher to put the ball right on the bag from his knees. Personally, to see a perfectly turned 6-4-3 double play is just as beautiful as someone might find in ballet. I don't know ballet, so I'm only guessing, but someone surely finds it beautiful.
And that's really my point. You truly can't appreciate it if you don't understand it. I'm sure it's incredibly boring to you if all you see it a bunch of guys standing around. But it's much more than that. And while we're on the topic. If you want to find a sport with guys just standing around that would be football. I recall a study done by a writer for SI a long time ago and he found that football had the least amount of continuous action of any of the major sports. Something like 8 minutes out of a 60 minute game. While the action may a bit scattered and in very short bursts, I believe baseball had almost twice a much. Sorry...as I was saying. A lack of understanding of art will allow to find what you think is pretty, but will not allow you to appreciate the difference between a Saurat, a Thomas Kincade, and some 6th grader's art project. No real knowledge of music will allow one to think there is no distinction between The Beatles, Bach, and Britney Spears.
It also promises nothing except 27 outs for the losing team. There is no clock. That's why two nine inning games can occur on the same night and one can last 1:52 and the other can go 4:27. It's not canned. The slugger's deep ball might just get knocked down by the wind, or he might have his knees buckled by the rookie's knuckle-curve. It's the only sport where the defense has possession of the ball. You're considered a good hitter if you can do it succesfully 1/3 of the time. It's these dichotomous attributes that makes it the best.
Don't get me wrong, I like football...and basketball...and hockey...and soccer...and sometimes even golf. Sometimes I find a particular baseball game a little boring, too. But in the end, baseball is a tie that binds...as American as apple pie. Comforting like a good book by your favorite author, who happens to have a new one waiting before you get that one read. I like it, and you should too. And you won't change my mind.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well, I believe in the soul... the dawn...the evening... the small of a woman's back... the hangin' curveball... high fiber... good scotch... that the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent overrated crap... I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I believe there ought to be a Constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter. I believe in the sweet spot, soft core pornography, opening your presents Christmas morning rather than Christmas Eve, and I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days. Goodnight.