Thursday, April 5, 2012

Why I Love Baseball: For Those Who Don't "Get It"

I was asked by a friend last year to tell her what was so wonderful about baseball. This is what I came up with.

I love the mathematical perfection of baseball and its field of play. How is it that 60' 6" was arrived at as the perfect distance from the pitcher's mound to the plate so as to strike the proper balance between favouring the pitcher and favouring the batter—and how is it that that balance is still there 160 years later? That's not true of other sports; as athletes have changed over the years they have had to tinker with their balances quite a bit. How is 90' still the perfect length for a baseline, allowing a normally-struck ground ball to be caught and thrown to first base in almost exactly the perfect amount of time to JUST retire the batter? How are (most of) the outfield fences positioned so that no matter what the quirky dimensions of an individual park is there really isn't that big a variation from the mean in the number of homers hit there?

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".

6 comments:

  1. G-Mac, I can't even tell you how excited I was to see a comment today. Thanks for breaking the seal. :)

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  2. Quite the moving post, truly! And while I'm not AS into baseball as you are, I certainly can understand and appreciate all the points you made here :).

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  3. GP, I just discovered this post while reading through your back catalog. You have quantified perfectly some of the reasons I love the game, but was unable to put into words. Well done!

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    1. Thanks, pablocito. This came about because I joined a group of Maple Leaf fans, ironically, and late in the season last year (2010-11) the conversation began to turn to baseball. One of the ladies in that group professed that she really didn't care for the game and would love it if anyone could really explain to her what we saw in it. I took up that challenge and wrote this piece, pretty much in a first draft, actually. I was really, really proud of it and I can honestly say it was probably the driving force behind finally getting this blog off the ground. So it's a really important piece for me on so many levels.

      Thrilled that you like it. Thanks!

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I've kept my comments open and moderation-free for many years, but I've been forced to now review them before they post due to the actions of one member of my family. I apologize for having to take this stance, but that's the way the world is headed, sad to say. Thank you for your understanding.

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