Things I Love About Baseball

Scientific yet beautiful.

Baseball is my favorite sport. Football comes second, but I don’t obsess about it nearly as much as I do about baseball. If the Braves lose, it’s not a good idea to pick a fight with me later that night. If the Cowboys lose, I’ll get over it in about 5 seconds. I continuously look at baseball sites deep into the winter, but I rarely even look at football sites even during the season. I’d much rather watch the World Series than the Super Bowl (the commercials have really sucked lately). Basketball is a distant third. Golf probably comes after that, but not by much. I easily play more golf, and it’s debatable that I watch more basketball. Bowling comes next, but that’s because I’ve done it since I was like two. But what is it that makes baseball so special? Why is it that good?

(not necessarily in any particular order)

1) It’s the hardest game to play. Try and hit a 90 mph fastball, a sharp curve, or a low-and-away slider. It’s not easy. Now, try throwing one. It’s not a whole lot easier. I can beef up and block. I can throw a spiral. I can shoot a three. To play the game, you must have the right mixture of athleticism, reactions, and effort. It means failing 70% of the time. It means throwing 100 balls in order to get 21 outs and still not be done.

2) You can relate to the players. In basketball, you have to be 6’3″ (no Pedroias, unless you count Mugsy), and in football, you have to be ripped and 250 lbs. while running at least a 4.5 40 yard dash. In baseball, you have Greg Maddux, CC Sabathia, David Wells, and David Ortiz. It’s not like they aren’t good athletes. They are. They just look like us. They don’t look so impossible to be. We can’t all be 6’7″. We can’t all be ripped out of our minds. But we can be Greg Maddux, as difficult as that is.

3) Jumbo Pretzels. A well-made Jumbo Pretzel may be the best thing on Earth. It has to be soft but not squishy and underdone. It has to have salt but not to the extent you wonder if you bought a piece of bread or a mine somewhere in Latin America. This point isn’t so much about a pretzel as it is about concession stand food (although I have to have one every time I go to a game). It’s not four-star cuisine. It’s not good for you. It’s over-priced. But it just feels right. It’s sitting outside on a warm summer’s day grabbing a hot dog that no one should know how it was made and a soft drink (or beer if you prefer) that is too large to allow you to make it through the sixth inning without having to run to the bathroom to pee in a restroom that you wonder whether or not it would be a better idea to hold it and risk sepsis. Other sports have concession foods, but it’s not the same inside watching guys who are in much better shape or outside freezing your tush off.

4) Turnstiles. We’ve all had those moments with the darn things. You try to walk through it, and it hasn’t been WD-40’d in like a year so you semi-fall through. You don’t quite fall, but you are left in this incredibly awkward position, not falling but only because the turnstile refuses to let you. Instead, everyone watches, wanting to laugh but understanding the feeling. It doesn’t matter how coordinated you are. They will get you. And I love them.

5) How perfect is a baseball field? You have to cut the grass correctly and sometimes in a nice pattern. You have to rake the infield. You have to brush off the plate. You have to chalk the lines. It’s a lot of work, and if you’ve ever done it, you fully appreciate the grounds crew for the underappreciated work they do. It’s like every game is a brand new game. You see the divots in football fields, and honestly, I could mow a rectangular field. A basketball court needs to be waxed and broomed, but it doesn’t need that much maintenance. And then, the smells. Who doesn’t like freshly-cut grass? I have allergies and still love it. A perfectly groomed baseball field is a wonderful thing.

6) The strategy. All sports have strategy. But understanding pitches, counts, situations, matchups, and all that jazz keeps you into it. If you don’t understand, then baseball is going to be boring, but if you do understand, the game goes by too fast, especially in the late innings. In between pitches, you wonder what he’ll throw, will the runner steal, is the defense in the right spot, etc., and before you know it, the dumb pitcher has thrown it. In football, there’s a play clock. In basketball, there’s a shot clock. But there’s not such thing in baseball. It’s a grudge match between the hitter and pitcher. Are you ready to hit this? I can stand out here all day. I’ll make you wait. It’s wonderful.

7) Keeping score. You can’t do this in other sports. There’s too much to watch. Who went where, who bit on the fake, who missed an assignment. In baseball, you know where the action is. You then keep a record of it on a sheet of paper with a bunch of diamonds that continually remind you that you’re in your favorite place watching your favorite sport. Where did the guy hit it last? Right field — F9. Try and remember where the shooter has made or missed his shots. Oh, and the numbers. 1 for pitcher, 2 for catcher, etc. It gives the game a nice simplicity and elegance. How good is it to say a 4-6-3 double-play and have everyone perfectly understand?

8) The grace. Baseball is one of the most poetic sports. I imagine it has the most poems written about it. You can write about it in so many ways. How graceful is Griffey’s swing! How well did that second baseman turn that double-play! Heck, even the throw around after an out is graceful when done well. What else? The curves of a pitch, the look of the field, a nice slide.

9) The 162 game schedule. I know we all think it’s long, but it’s 162 games of our favorite sport. It’s played every night. We don’t have to wait all week for it. It’s not over in less than four months. It’s like a good novel you don’t want to end. It’s like watching The Dark Knight and hoping there’s another bad guy so it will keep going. It’s long and it sucks when our team does, but it makes it all the sweeter when your team makes it (unless you’re a Royals, Pirates, Nationals, Orioles fan — what wonderful people). It’s the ultimate example of weeding out the good from the bad.

10) It’s the first sport you can teach your kids. Football is kind of difficult when your kid can’t throw a ball most adults can’t throw correctly and isn’t big enough to do the thing football needs — hit someone. Basketball’s kind of hard considering kids can’t really throw a ball up 8 or 10 feet, and dribbling a ball is something I still can’t do. But baseball. If he/she can’t throw far, move up. Make the field smaller. Lob the ball up and let them swing and hit it. Put it on a tee. Let them furiously whack the rubber part and the ball simply fall straight down. Watch them demand for it to be put back. They know they can hit that stupid, suspended ball. They also know they can’t launch a basketball that high.

11) The different fields. Basketball courts and football fields can have different colors, but they’re all the same. Nothing really makes one unique from another. Sure, the architecture is different, but it all leads to a rectangle with lines. Baseball fields have quirks. Weird juts in the wall. Ivy. Big or small foul territories. Tall or short grass. Left field walls that are farther away than the one in right. Pools in the stands. The Green Monster. Grass areas in the stands. Bullpens in foul territory or behind the fence. You never know what you’ll find. Use your imagination. It can happen. Put a darn hill in center if you want. Want to put one behind home plate? Do it. A baseball field is a blank slate, not a rectangle waiting to be filled in.

12) The trade deadline. We all know that much doesn’t usually happen there, but nothing happens in basketball or football. It doesn’t really make sense to make a trade during the season. You have to learn new plays and style of play. In baseball, you switch teams and keep doing what you were doing. Things can change. You can improve.

13) Wind-ups and batting stances. Basketball has the right shot technique, the right way to dribble. Football has the right blocking technique, the right way to hold the ball, the right way to throw it. Baseball has all sorts of weird things. Want to be normal and go through a textbook wind-up? Take a look at Greg Maddux. Want to be different? Try Hideo Nomo, Dontrelle Willis, Chad Bradford. Want to have a normal stance? Emulate Kelly Johnson, Manny Ramirez, Mark Teixeira. Want to be different? Watch Julio Franco, Craig Counsell, Tony Batista, Jeff Bagwell. Go nuts. It’s hard to find two guys who do the same thing. The other sports demand you all do it the same.

14) There’s no time-limit. Did you ever think it wasn’t fair that the other team won because they had the ball for longer? Did you see a guy shoot the ball .01 seconds after the buzzer sounds and watch his shot nullified? That doesn’t happen in baseball. Each team gets up 9 times. They always get 3 outs. I don’t have to stop my rally because the stupid 15 minutes are up.

15) Stats. This is the sport of stats. You can have so many stats. Use them to make your argument. I’m sure you can find something as evidence. None of them are truly perfect, but we use them like they are. We argue over their value. We try to make them better, more encompassing, more perfect. What is the right combination to judge worth? Heck, they even influence how teams play, how managers manage. How irrational is the save? It’s a useful stat that means something, but we’ve created a whole position to perfect it. We’ve then created other roles to ensure it happens. We save a guy for that particular purpose even when the manager knows it will cost more money to have this guy save a four-run lead with a man on second and have it count the same as coming in to save a one-run lead with a man on third. We let it get that way. It’s amazing. We can know everything and nothing at all.

16) The sounds. How cool is it to hear the crack of a bat, the pop of a mitt. How weird is a tackle or the clank of a shot off the rim. There are no horns. Just cheers, music, cracks, pops, and Bobby Cox getting ejected again.

17 ) Contracts. Love or hate free-agency, it’s fair. A guy has to earn his money. He makes the league-minimum for three years. If he’s proven himself, he gets to make some more money while staying on the same team for another three years. After that, he gets to go on the market and make up for the money he didn’t make all those other years. You can complain about free-agency being too expensive, but you’re really just paying the extra money the guy didn’t get earlier. Basketball and football players get all this money before they’ve even done anything. Also, contracts are guaranteed. You can’t just dump a guy to get rid of his contract. It makes you try to make better decisions.

18) The mid-year draft. Everyone else has theirs in the off-season, but baseball has theirs during the season. There isn’t a lot of hoopla over it like the others, but it’s just so cool how the college game ends at such a different time. One day you’re playing in the College World Series. The next you’re in a major-league organization (that is unless your agent is Scott Boras).

19) Scott Boras. Is there a guy in other sports that is so hated yet so respected. We want to call him the devil. He makes our team pay through the nose for his players. He isn’t doing anything wrong. He’s doing his job. If an owner and GM do what they can for their team, why shouldn’t he do his best to do what he can for his player. Yet, we hate him. Our collective hatred is centered on him. And he doesn’t care.

20) Of course, the history. Baseball is older than a lot of the major sports. Still, the other sports have their own unique and interesting histories. I just don’t care about those.

This doesn’t have a lot to do with history, but man, I want baseball to start again.

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