Posted by: Nathan | April 11, 2006

Baseball

It’s spring again, and baseball is back, asserting itself with endless relatively meaningless games going on daily and nightly. I am glad. Baseball is the best sport in America these days due to the pace, stadiums, homeruns, and pitching.

–It isn’t that baseball doesn’t have problems. Steroids have rocked the validity of the game. Barry Bonds is a problem all to himself. The salaries are inflated, people complain about revenue sharing, and sometimes it’s boring to watch (there are one-hundred sixty-two games that everybody has to play; then there’s the playoffs…). Clearly, there is no shortage of baseball-related issues.
–However, baseball has an appeal that other sports lack. There is no clock; the games take as long as they need to take, the at-bats require as many pitches as it takes to get an out or a hit, the half-innings stretch as long as an offense can shoot a ball between fielders. Many people whine that the lack of clock makes for long games. Good. The last thing we need in this culture is an instant-gratification, convenient, easy-to-use, drive-thru, automatic, quick-hitting kind of game. Sit down and watch. And chat. And sit. Baseball demands the fan to slow down.
–Another likeable aspect of baseball is the playing fields/stadiums. Baseball is the only sport where playing in a different stadium means playing on a field with different dimensions. NFL, NBA, tennis, and NHL all play on the same surface no matter where the game is held(I should mention that golf has different playing surfaces like baseball, but I can’t care about golf). The effect this has shouldn’t be downplayed: you go to a ballpark and the first thing you do is look around at the field. There is an undeniable aesthetic appeal about the diamond, the green, grassy outfield, and the curved or angled walls. Most new parks are also constructed to take advantage of the cityscape or natural features (e.g. PNC Park in Pittsburgh, or the new Busch Stadium in St. Louis). Clearly, baseball has the best playing surface in sports.
–Another characteristic of baseball that has universal appeal is the homerun. The homerun is the single most exciting in-game event in sports. Across sports, what can I compare it to? A last-second 3-pointer? Homers can win games in the ninth. A long TD pass? Homeruns are more majestic. A hole-in-one? Doesn’t do it for me (though it is substantially rarer). A hat-trick in hockey? A last-lap pass in NASCAR (oh wait, we’re talking about sports; NASCAR is by definition excluded)? There is something about the crack of the bat and the batter’s eyes lighting up as the bathead comes around. The pitcher turns, dejected, and the fans rise from their seats. The small white sphere soars through the heavens as one outfielder gives hopeless chase. The fans surge up en masse to catch the ball as it lands. There’s nothing like it in sports.
–The last thing that makes baseball truly great is something that not everyone appreciates: pitching. You simply cannot enjoy the game unless you understand and admire pitching. Location, speed, and pitch-type all varying from one throw to the next, from batter to batter. Good pitching is like hearing a symphony; it’s arranged, organized, beautiful, yet still unpredictable.
–For these reasons, I posit that baseball is the best sport despite its problems. Baseball’s untimed pace, beautiful venues, exciting homerun, and orchestral pitching put it above all other sports. Sure, football is more exciting to follow, hockey has its charms, and college basketball is fantastic come March, but if I had to eliminate all sports but one tomorrow, baseball would still fill every summer with pitchers’ duels, lazy fly balls, and the intangible sense of something good.

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Responses

  1. You had me until: “You simply cannot enjoy the game unless you understand and admire pitching”. I’m quite ignorant when it comes to the pitch, but I love going to games, and agree wholeheartedly that baseball is superior to all the rest.

    However, your elegant description of the act has piqued my interest. Learning to appreciate pitching sounds like a good “next level” for this casual fan.

    -Jason

  2. Agreed. Whole-heartedly agreed.

  3. Good point, Jason. I should say something like, “Baseball can be most appreciated with a healthy understanding of pitching.” There is just something magical about watching a pitcher in control of a game. The way he mixes his pitches, varies the location and the speed so the batter never knows what’s coming. It’s great. I learned most of my pitching knowledge courtesy of the following trio of announcers: 1.Joe Morgan 2.Peter Gammons 3.Steve Stone. If you want a good example of great pitching, check out Maddux’s last game against the Dodgers.

  4. “The last thing we need in this culture is an instant-gratification, convenient, easy-to-use, drive-thru, automatic, quick-hitting kind of game. Sit down and watch. And chat. And sit. Baseball demands the fan to slow down.”

    Excellent point.


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