Sometimes you need to get really freaking mad to realize just how much you actually appreciate something. That’s how it was for me and the game of baseball last Sunday.
I was already having a bad day. The Red Sox were playing like crap and in danger of losing their third straight game to start the season. Another Texas Ranger mashed another poor pitch into the bleachers, the infuriating epic movie soundtrack music came on the stadium PA system and assaulted my ears through the television set, and I thought I could get no lower.
That’s when my housemate burst through the door and sarcastically shouted, “YES, BASEBALL! I love watching baseball!”
I felt like running to the garage, grabbing my Louisville Slugger and mashing something myself – either the television or my buddy’s ignorant skull, I couldn’t decide which. Fortunately, I remembered that said housemate could bench press one and a half of me, so I stayed on the recliner. But mentally, mentally I was hotter than a Fenway Frank in deep August.
It wasn’t long, however, until rage turned to pity. A few minutes after he had totally crossed the line, I honestly felt bad for my hater housemate. You see, he doesn’t know what he’s missing.
I’ve been hooked on baseball since my sixth birthday when my father took my brothers and me to the game’s most hallowed cathedral: Fenway Park, 4 Yawkey Way, Boston. That night, I walked up out of the concourse and into a new inning of my existence. The bright lights puncturing the velvety black of a July night, the greenest green of the outfield grass, the graceful movements of the players on the field – it was all so much larger than life. Love at first sight.
Fifteen years and dozens of Sox games later – not to mention my own Little League, High School, and College games – the affair continues. So when someone tells me baseball is boring, all I can do is feel sorry for them.
Baseball is like many of the finest things in life: good beer, good music, good literature. Like these, the game requires some cultivation of the taste buds before it can truly be appreciated, but once the palette is tuned, the satisfaction is surpassing. It is a game of finite details in which bat can connect with ball in one place for a game-winning home run but a fraction of an inch to either side and it’s a game-losing pop fly. Before each pitch, a mental battle of extraordinary detail takes place between batter and pitcher: the score, the count, baserunners, number of outs – all go into the decision of fastball or curve, slider or changeup, inside or outside, high, or low – not to mention what the batter has done in previous at-bats, which pitches are working well for the pitcher that day, what the wind is like, etc. When the fan becomes clued in to even a morsel of these considerations, the seconds between the action become not inducers of sleep but tense moments of guessing-games and anticipation.
The true beauty of baseball is that the key moment can come at any time. The periods of so-called boredom make it all the more dramatic when the obviously exciting action arrives. Like life, our national pastime is a progression of everyday occurrences, outside sliders and grounders to short, punctuated by moments of crucial importance: the diving play by the second baseman to save a run, the 3-2 pitch that just misses for a walk to prolong the inning, the decisive homer hit by the next batter who never would have gotten the chance had the umpire seen things differently. And like life, sometimes you don’t realize you’ve reached a turning point until after it’s past you.
So sit down on the recliner with beverage of choice and settle in to the comfortable pace of a baseball game. And if the knowledge that the contest could be decided at any second doesn’t keep you engaged, well, that’s why thousands of men (and a few women) are employed across America as commentators. If they’re not keeping you interested between plugs for the next psycho-killer drama on FX, it’s not the game’s fault. Tell me the broadcasters are boring, don’t tell me baseball is boring.
Of course, this is just baseball on TV we’re talking about. Go to the ballpark and it’s practically impossible to be bored. If you’re not a serious baseball fan and aren’t satisfied clutching a scorecard and paying attention to every pitch, that’s okay. At any good stadium, there’s an onslaught of sensory diversions to take your mind off the game. The smell of hot dogs and Budweiser, the raucous heckling of the aging, beer-gutted fan behind you, those superlatively bright lights. These alone should be enough to keep any honest American smiling.
Assuming you’re like the majority of us, however, and can’t make it to your local sanctuary of sport on a regular basis, all I can say is this: give baseball a chance the next time you flip to it on ESPN. Get to know the game beneath her surface, and I promise, she won’t let you down.
Matt Hart is Sports Editor of The Carletonian. He wrote the above piece for Dennis Cass’ Creative Nonfiction class.