Thursday, January 28, 2010

The play is the thing...


I feel sorry for folks who aren’t baseball fans.  Not in an I am superior you are inferior manner, more in the sense that there is something truly special in life and damn I wish you could share in it.
For a lot of folks, baseball is nine guys standing around in a grassy field.  There are 3 bases, a home plate and a pitcher’s mound.  One guy is throwing a ball and another guy is crouched down near home plate catching it..  Interrupting this game of catch is a guy with a big stick trying to hit the ball.  If he manages to hit it, the guys out in the field go from standing around to doing something.  Then you rinse and repeat for what seems like forever and eventually we all go home.
If this describes your view of baseball then it’s not surprising the sport is not too exciting, let alone interesting. Baseball is in my opinion the best of all sports and in many ways for me reflects a lot of my philosophy on life.  The odds are stacked against you.  As a batter, you stand alone at the plate facing a guy hurling one of many different pitches into a location only he and the catcher know.  Then you have less the 4 tenths of a second to decide to take a swing or not and most of the time, you are going to guess wrong.  Even if you do manage to guess right and hit the ball, there are 9 guys in the field trying to stop you from reaching first base.  Should you manage to leave home plate and reach base, you now rely on another teammate to get you home again.  Baseball is about failure and consistently attempting to overcome it.  Not quite Sisyphean in aspect, but when you pick up your bat and step into the box, you realize the outcome at least 7 out of 10 times is going to be a walk back into the dugout, and thus failure.  Yet, you gamely pick up your bat and head to the batters box at least 3 times a game, trying your best to beat the odds.  One against nine, odds stacked against you, and you dig in ready to have another go.  Remember there’s no crying in baseball.
Baseball is a game of strategy.  It may look like the pitcher just waits for the catcher to show some odd figure gesture and then he chucks the ball hard trying to fool the batter.  To some extent, yup that’s it-but that’s also like saying a kiss from your wife is the same as one from your grandma.  There are all sorts of different kisses right? There’s the kind you give your grandma, the kind you give your mom, the kind you give to some Euro types as a greeting and the kind you give your spouse.  Trust me, if you’re not giving your spouse or significant other a little extra effort in that kiss, I am here to tell you son you’re doing it wrong and missing out on a lot!  On the other hand if you’re giving your grandma that same kind of effort, I’d recommend you dial it back a few notches.
Like different kinds of kisses, the same is true for pitches.  There’s a pitch your throw to a home run hitter, and there’s a pitch you throw to a fast guy who slaps the ball.  The kind of pitch thrown depends upon the number of different pitches you can throw, the batter being faced, how many times the batter has faced you, how good you feel, which pitch is working, the weather conditions, the number of men on base, the inning, and the score.  Yup that’s a lot of data to figure out before you throw EACH AND EVERY pitch. Then you have to figure out if you are going to pitch it high or low, inside or outside, or maybe you really screw with them and throw them something they could hit. 
Don’t get me wrong, no one is out there with a slide rule and an iPad figuring this out in between pitches, instead it’s simply a hard learned skill or talent. The manager, the pitcher, the catcher and even fielders are all in concert pitch by pitch trying to figure out how best to fool the batter and steer the course of the game to favor their team by making the batter get an out.  So much like a duck swimming, it may look effortless or simple, but there’s a lot of going on under the surface.
That’s just one little aspect of the greatness of baseball.  How about the fact that there is no clock in baseball? There is no arbitrary end to the game based on some sort of time limit. A game lasts 9 innings and each team gets an equal amount of 27 outs, no more-no less.  There is no clock control, not time outs, no time of possession. A game lasts as long as it takes for each team to get 27 outs, and in that way every game is a little story of its own.  There is a beginning, middle, and an end to each game.  In that most American way, each team gets an equality of opportunity (27 outs) but the equality of results is not guaranteed.
Baseball is also all about hope.  The pitcher and catcher hope to get each batter out.  The batter hopes to get on base and score a run, and every spring, every team and baseball fan hopes that this is their year to win it all.  Spring training is coming and I have had baseball on the brain since, well since I first played T-ball at 6 years old.  I have a lot of hope as pitchers and catchers report in a couple weeks.  I hope my team wins it all, I hope I get to see more games live with my friends and family and enjoy a good hot dog and a beer under the summer sun.  I hope I get to create a lot of new memories as I cheer my heart out with every win and take my lumps with the inventible losses knowing we have chance next time.  I hope most of all, that you may give the sport a chance and study it.  Pick a team, watch a couple games and head out to a ball park.  You do not have to go to an MLB game, it can be minor league game or just as fun, a local little league game.  Get outside and enjoy the little story played out amongst strangers and friends on a green diamond under a blue sky and a warm yellow sun.  Play ball!

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