Baseball. Base. Ball.
Two simple words smashed together like Pete Rose powering through Ray Fosse at the plate. An appropriate simile for something I admit is equally captivating and pointless.
I’m comfortable with people telling me they don’t understand baseball, though I secretly can’t help feeling it usually implies some lack of effort on their part. I’m even a reasonable enough individual when people tell me that baseball isn’t for them. I will not abide anyone telling me that baseball is boring.
There are two reasons why I have become infatuated with baseball in my adult life:
The first, and it can honestly be found in any human pursuit classified as “enjoyable,” is connection. Baseball, particularly in my curmudgeonly adult life, has proved a wonderful avenue for making connections with people I love… or I’m about to love. Baseball is the reason every phone conversation with my father ends “I love you. Let’s go Bucs.”
Without baseball I wouldn’t ever had cried in my favorite bar, and I never would have dated a woman with a Kanye West tattoo.
I would have never spent fourteen innings over four hours calling Ryan Braun a turd burglar, later to see an embarrassed friend a few rows behind me with her family, on what I am sure otherwise was a lovely Easter Sunday afternoon.
When the Pirates are playing the Brewers, I can’t even allow myself to drink Milwaukee beers, which would be significant if you knew how much Pabst I drink.
Because baseball, I spent my eleventh birthday at Three Rivers stadium. I watched a game go into the bottom of the tenth tied at zero. The Buccos had sent two pitchers to the mound, and neither of them had conceded a hit. Surely, Mark Smith knew it was my birthday and decided that a three-run homer would be the best present. This was followed by a ton of fireworks, because Pittsburgh.
The second thing my passion for baseball hinges upon is anticipation. I enjoy guessing. I’m ok with being wrong. And above all else, I love analyzing complete strangers for their decisions and reactions. Waiting for every season, every game, and every lineup to be released. Trying to read each pitch, watching the runner for a sign he’s considering stealing second, and then waiting to see if the pitcher attempts a pitch out to stop the steal. So much of baseball is spent wrapped up in the next thing that is about to happen I occasionally lose track of the current play. I’m pretty sure the same thing happens to umpires. Part of me wishes there was still no instant replay, and the drama of missed calls was still in play (as much as I want to hate Jerry Meals).
Then again, no matter how many times the decision is reviewed, the designated hitter was and still is the wrong call for making baseball more “interesting.” The single greatest thing sports viewership has to offer is the witnessing of improbability. With all the detailed statistics out there, it’s hard to argue that any single game has become a sport of probability like baseball, but playing the percentages instead of stacking the percentages is, for me (and I hope a lot of you) a far more entertaining prospect.
If because baseball is at least half because waiting, it’s because the most crucial moment in every National League game starts as a player steps back onto the field– sometimes after hours of fending off line drives and charging runners, or snagging to-the-wall catches– and uses an entirely different, near-superhuman skill set to bring one last teammate across home plate. Being able to do both incredibly difficult things only makes baseball more amazing. Even when it isn’t the Pirates being amazing in that moment, at least there were probably a few hours that day where I believed they might… and if I get to have another drink to give something a chance to get that much more amazing, I’m okay with a fourteen-inning game win or lose.
The timing of pulling the pitcher becomes a much more interesting scenario when it’s not just rooted in his performance on the mound. I enjoy the moving pieces, the double switch, and the demand for rosters with players that are skilled at multiple positions. The nine guys given the responsibility to keep the other team from scoring runs, should still be the same nine guys tasked with scoring runs for their team. Honestly, if Clint Barmes can hit a grand slam, just about anything can happen.