First things first,
I’m the realest I would like to get some key points out of the way: Every activity is not enjoyed by everyone, and I am fully aware of that. Some people hunt animals with guns, some take up interpretive dance, and a few of you delightful weirdos ride around on unicycles for amusement. Hobbies and pastimes are almost too numerous to count, and the overwhelming majority of them will not be of interest to either you or me. That leaves the rest filed in the “wholly uninterested” or “apathetic” categories. It is not my intention, therefore, to try to persuade those who under no circumstances could ever find themselves enamored with the game of baseball. This piece is instead aimed at those who know baseball is a thing that exists, but don’t really care one way or the other. Here is my personal manifesto for why I believe that you (yes, YOU!) should be a fan of America’s Pastime.
Baseball, the game itself, is unique among what you might call the “Big 5” of American professional sports. That buzzing noise you hear is soccer fans cheering at me for including them at the adult table with hockey, baseball, basketball, and American football. However, I’m only including them because football a.k.a. “soccer” is hands down the most popular sport on the entire planet, and I want some of those fans to also decide to add baseball to their fandoms. Besides, if there’s one sport in America that suffers some of the same criticisms, it’s soccer.
Like I said, baseball is unique, because on one hand it’s a team sport, and on the other, it is very much a 1 vs. 1 battle. The moment where the game truly begins is when the pitcher is on the mound and the batter steps to the plate. A quarterback may read the defense pre-snap, and a point guard may do the same, but there are many moving parts as players realign or shift in ways that greatly affect the outcome. During that moment on a baseball field though, not any other person on the field matters. It is not about the other fielders or the coaches, it boils down to only one person trying to best the other. “You think you’re ready for this? Think you can keep up?” vs. “I can hit anything you throw my way, try me.” It’s like the beginning of a boxing match. Only after the first punch is thrown, and the opponent swings, do any of the other teammates come into play.
And those other players play no small part in what makes baseball special, either. In a time when other sports are moving towards high-flying offenses and explosive highlight reels at the expense of traditional defensive play, baseball remains more-or-less just as balanced now as it was a century ago. Football has made it illegal to sneeze in the direction of a receiver; unless they’re in the NFC championship with the entire game on the line in the final minutes. And no, I’m not bitter, don’t ask. The NBA will turn a blind-eye to travelling, arguably one of the defining rules of the game, if this oversight leads to an abundance of alley-oops. Baseball, however, has seen a rise in defensive strategy in the form of the infield shift. Players routinely move from their “default” alignment in order to play the percentages on where they think the batter will hit the ball, based on his past tendencies. This then puts the onus squarely on the offensive player to improve as a hitter and be less predictable to the opposition. Furthermore, every day pitchers get better at their craft, and are countered by batters with more of an uppercut in their swings; there’s no defense against the homerun, after all. In effect, defense in baseball is allowed to play at the same level as the offense in a way not seen in either of the two most popular sports in America.
Finally, baseball is valuable in ways beyond appreciating the mechanics of the game itself. For many, it is the first sport we play as children albeit in the form of lowly T-ball (sorry Mom and Dad). Those of us who continue to play baseball beyond those initial years, eventually find that the game can teach you some interesting truths about life. The first, and perhaps largest lesson is encountering failure, accepting the failure, and inevitably trying again. “The best hitters on earth fail 70% of the time” is a phrase you might hear countless times while playing baseball. You could hit the ball as hard as you can, as well as you can, and it can still lead to an out. Maybe the defender made an outstanding play, or you hit it directly at someone. You learn that sometimes your best attempts will not work out for reasons that are beyond your control. The best thing that you can do, is to get right back in that batter’s box and try again. In my opinion, that is a valuable lesson to learn in middle and high school before you encounter any “real world” difficulties. Another aspect to appreciate is that, to many, the most difficult thing to do in all of professional sport is hit a baseball at the pro level. Fastballs are routinely thrown over 90 miles per hour. That means the ball can move from the pitcher’s hand to the catcher’s mitt faster than the human eye can blink. Even if a batter keeps his eyes open though, in the last 15-20 feet before the ball gets to the plate the hitter cannot track the path of the ball because the human eye cannot physically relay that information to the brain fast enough. And that’s a straight-flying ball; add in pitches that break or sink over a foot, and it is a goddamned miracle that anyone in this game even makes contact. How can you not respect a skill that can only be described as abject wizardry?
As you might be able to tell from reading this far: I am deeply in love with this sport. Baseball lends itself to a sense of romanticism that is unrivaled by any other sport in American culture. There are ballparks in this country that remain largely unaltered from when they were first built over 100 years ago. It was the first sport that captivated this country as a whole, where an entertainer playing a game similarly played by children could be enjoyed nationwide. Yes there are aspects of baseball’s early years that were/are appalling; rampant drinking, womanizing, gambling, and racism which still have left their stains on the legacy of the game.
And in today’s Snapchat, 140 character, 6 second video (RIP Vine) culture, the pace of baseball gets it lost in the blur. Soccer is in the same boat as well: too much time combined with too little action. It’s considered boring, it’s slow. I get it, and those in charge are trying to help with new rule changes to quicken the pace. Major League Baseball implemented a 20 second timer between pitches in Spring Training games this year. Compare that to the 40 second play clock in the NFL, and the 25 second shot clock in the NBA. Let me also counter with this: nearly every single pitch comes with the potential for a big play. It could lead to a line drive hit, a towering moonshot home run, or a climactic strikeout. Every play that ends in a weak ground ball to the shortstop or lazy fly ball is akin to a 2 yard run or an incomplete pass or shot in football and basketball. Those are not exciting plays, but they are important to the flow and mechanics of the game.
If at the end of the day I cannot convert you, that is fine, I have no real expectations for that. However, at the very least, I hope I was able to give you an insight into what makes this sport so special to me, as well as millions of others across the US, Latin America, Japan, and Korea. Even still, to those on the fence, I would like to formally offer you an invitation to the world of being a baseball fan. I hope to see you this summer at the ballpark!