I was asked by a friend last year to tell her what was so wonderful about baseball. This is what I came up with.
And then there's the game play—often times balletic in nature. A double play can be a thing of extraordinary beauty. A leaping catch in the outfield—defying gravity and common physics and kinesiology—is a true marvel. I have played the game since I was a little boy and I find leaping over a wall to catch a ball somewhat mundane but being on the wrong foot as you push off and flying through the air to snag a deep drive while running with your back to the plate and hanging onto that ball as you crash down onto the gravel track to be superbly glorious to behold. And it is truly, undeniably and sometimes brutally a "game of inches" like no other. 3 of the 4 games last night [the very final matches of the 2011 regular season] were won in dramatic fashion and in each case the margin of victory—measured quantifiably by where the game-winning hit landed—was virtually microscopic. In layman's terms: every single game of those three literally "coulda gone either way".
Then, of course, there's the splendour of the playing fields themselves. No other sport—with the exception of golf—lends itself to this kind of creativity. From the pre-WWI marvels of Wrigley Field and Fenway Park to the technological wonder that is the SkyDome through to the beauty of Camden Yards no two ballparks are the same. Where else does that happen in a team sport? And there is something innately beautiful about having to come "full circle" to score—not just one-way like football or hockey or soccer. You have to complete the cycle to put points on the board and that sort of "perfection"—that of the circle—goes back to the ancients.
As a metaphor for life's seasons, too, it has no equal, especially in temperate climates such as ours. The snow is barely off the land—and in some parts, still there—when you start to hear the familiar thump of leather on leather or the crack of the ball off of the still-wooden bats. The game is an awakening every year, a harbinger of the idyllic, languorous summer months to come. The excitement a baseball fan feels every spring is not just for his or her sport alone but for the promise of a new and prosperous season. Then the true magic of the game takes over: in the long, hot, slow-moving months of mid-summer the game of baseball does its best to carry you on soft and subtle waves for days on end. My partner has said it's the one game she can sit and read to while I watch because it's so "relaxing to listen to" (as it would be if you were not hanging on every pitch as I often do). I find the layers of complexity in each and every at-bat to be fascinating to contemplate and as a young lad I used to sit outside in the sun and "score" Expos games on a giant pad, annotating each individual play with my thoughts on what transpired. If you let it, it can be an incredibly tranquil game...but I can never find it boring. Never.
And finally there's this: baseball has no clock. There is a beginning to every game—if it isn't raining—but theoretically every game has the potential to never, ever end. There's no buzzer-beater; there's no last rush up the ice to beat the clock; there's no stepping out of bounds to stop that clock; there's just the knowledge that, as long as you do not make that 3rd out in any one inning, you could go on scoring forever...theoretically. In fact, baseball actually flies in the face of time as a true limiter because you run the bases counter-clockwise. That can't have been a mistake when the game was first created. It's the only game where the defense has control of the ball—the only one—and yet the defense cannot control when the game ends. Only the offense can do that.
I do not follow every sport although I can appreciate the attraction of several that I do not. I am a hockey freak and a baseball nut. There is room on my plate for both, especially as they rarely overlap in this city. But while I think I was born with hockey in my blood, I fell in love with baseball the very first moment I saw it. My favourite sporting movie of all time is "Field of Dreams" and, as a friend of mine told me very recently about another completely different movie, "I saw myself in it immediately".