Posted on April 16, 2012
No, I don’t mean drinking, or abusing drugs, or watching the Kardashians, or drinking and abusing drugs while watching the Kardashians. I wish to speak of baseball, and the patterns and rituals inherent to the game, and the pace that makes it so dear to my heart at age fifty.
I know it is a slow game. I had trouble playing Little League because I would drift off and lose track of the action. I once caught a line drive with my forehead because I wasn’t ready and never saw the ball. I preferred basketball because of the constant action. But to watch baseball now, in my old age, is to discover a new joy.
I watch the batters as they approach home plate, and admire their little peccadilloes in the batter’s box. Some, in fact many, adjust their batting gloves before and after every pitch. Others move their feet in certain patterns. Then there’s the practice swings, and all are different. Willie Stargell used to swing his bat like a windmill, while Hunter Pence of the Phillies swings it like it’s the first time he’d ever seen one. Yet both achieved major league success.
Baseball is also statistics. The numbers go back well over a century. They were tarnished quite a bit during the steroid scandal, but they still stand the test of time. And new stats come up constantly. For years I had my own stat. I added up the total number of hits and walks and divided it into the total innings pitched. In other words, if a player pitched 201 innings and gave up 155 hits and 35 walks. That aversges out to .094, or less than one per inning. This pitcher, by the way, would have had a phenomenal season, a Pedro Martinez in his prime type season. Now it is known as the WHIP. I was doing it years ago.
I love numbers, and baseball is numbers. DiMaggio had a 56 game hitting streak. Ted Williams hit.406 in 1941. Cy Young won 511 games. Nolan Ryan threw 7 no-hitters. Mickey Mantle won the Triple Crown in 1956. Babe Ruth hit 714 homers. (Why do I think of the word Lemon when I hear the number 714?) And Hank Aaron broke that record with 755. (Bonds may have 762, but they weren’t legit home runs.)
Baseball is also played on a big, open field. Who can forget the first time you emerged from the tunnel at the stadium and came upon that gorgeous expanse of green grass? Baseball is very pastoral in its setting. You almost expect a wayward cow to wander through the outfield. And you were there watching grown men playing a kids game in a big, old field. Think about that.
At home, the game lends itself to other activities. The constant change of innings leaves time to hit the head, grab another beer, yell at the kids in the front yard to keep it down, kick the dog on the way into the den and not miss a pitch. And you can do this every inning. (I’m just kidding, or am I?)
Baseball is like a chess game, in some ways. How do you try to move a runner over, steal a base or bunt? Should the pitcher throw a change-up or bring the heat? Should the catcher call a pitchout? When do you remove your pitcher? Much analysis goes into this game.
And there’s no running the clock out in baseball. The game continues until the last out is recorded. The team winning can’t run and hide. They have to get that last out. To quote Yogi Berra, one of the almost mythical characters in the history of baseball, “It ain’t over til it’s over.” That’s another thing I love about baseball.