Spring is upon us, and with it the start of the baseball season. I’m so ready for this, just as I am every April. It’s fun, it’s frustrating—it draws you in. Around this time of year, though, the most frustrating thing is having to defend baseball to haters (such as my baseball-bashing roommate, Gary). I’ve never considered writing a blog about it before, but here are the five most basic reasons I like baseball.
- Baseball is unique. There is no sport like it (besides baseball offshoots such as softball, kickball, over the line, and good old Wiffle ball, but you know what I mean). The other major pro team sports are generally different iterations of the same game: get the ball into the opposite goal, while the opposing teams tries to prevent you. Soccer is the most obvious, but basketball, hockey, and football use the same basic template, though football deviates the most out of those. In baseball, the ball serves a completely different purpose than the “marker” it serves in the other sports. And this is interesting, and pretty cool (at least to me): baseball is the only sport in which the defense has possession of the ball.
- Baseball is perfect. This, you must be thinking, should be reason #1. By perfect, I merely mean that the diamond’s dimensions are so finely tuned to create dynamic game play, they appear as if they were given directly to us by the finger of God from Mt. Sinai. For those unfamiliar, the baseball diamond is a 90-foot square. Ninety feet is a magic number, and to change it, even by a foot, would result in either too many or too few base hits. The pitcher’s mound is 60½ feet from home plate (yes, I’m getting these numbers from the top of my head; I guess I’m a geek), and the same magical properties apply.
- Baseball is the only sport I can think of where every playing field is different, and I love this added variety, which you find nowhere else. While the infield dimensions are exact, outfield dimensions are given quite a bit of free play. Some ballparks have long, capacious outfields, where homeruns are harder to hit; some have shorter fields that favor hitters. Some have more foul ball territory; some have only narrow foul ball territory. Since a ball hit foul can still be caught for an out, this changes the game! (Less foul ball territory favors the hitter). Every ballpark, therefore, has its own flavor, and local fans and baseball fans in general, myself included, love this fun and memorable aspect of baseball. It’s why baseball fans grow to love not only their home team, but their local ballpark as well.
- Baseball is dynamic. The most frequent complaint from haters is that baseball is boring. Not to me! But I think I know what the complaint means. In baseball, the action is punctuated. There are times of even pace, and then, bam!, something fast or big happens. You never know when it will spring. I like this. Football also has punctuated action, but in sports like soccer, basketball, and hockey, what you get (in my opinion) is a constant high pace, where punctuations are in low contrast to the the mean action level. It’s kind of homogeneous, if you will. In basketball, scores are high and you at least get to see baskets made every few minutes. In soccer, nothing ever happens, and that is my biggest problem with it. Soccer is still fun, and I don’t bash any sports (except curling, of course). But rather than believing baseball is boring, I really enjoy the high contrast, up-and-down dynamism of it. I suppose it’s the very thing others find “boring” that really keeps my interest, which is why the boring accusation always baffled me.
- Baseball is subtle and therefore engaging. So, what exactly goes on in those evenly paced times we just discussed? A lot more than meets the eye, but this is where you begin to have to be more of an active baseball spectator. There is a battle being fought between the pitcher and the batter—one of the most intriguing battles in all of sports. Think about it. The pitcher has to pitch the ball over the plate, just in the area the hitter can best hit it, and try to strike him out. If he pitches out of the hitter’s reach, that doesn’t count, and goes toward the hitter. How can the pitcher do this and yet not give up a hit? That’s the battle! And it’s a game of strategy at least as much as skill. Since 1870 (I didn’t get that off the top of my head) pitchers have had more pitches to choose from than just the fastball. The catcher makes decisions about which pitch to throw in an attempt to catch the batter off guard. “Breaking balls” (balls that curve) do this either by making the batter think he’s getting a strike and swinging at a ball that breaks away, or by making him think he’s getting a ball and letting the ball pass as it breaks into the strike zone. Strike! The batter, in the meantime, is trying to get into the pitcher’s mind and be one step ahead. When you realize what’s going on every at-bat, it makes the game engaging and supremely interesting, and even a little heady. There are more subtleties (think runners trying to steal, base coaches and their famous hand signals, etc), but this is enough said.
Now that you undoubtedly have a greater appreciation of baseball, enjoy the 162 games of the regular season.