Friday, October 12, 2007

We Interrupt this Blog to talk about. . . Baseball!

It's October and the Red Sox are playing tonight.

It doesn't get a whole lot sweeter than this. And the League series, at least, is on broadcast TV, so I get to watch this go round.

So why do I love the game of baseball so much?

Well, geography is certainly part of it. You cannot live in the Boston area without feeling some of the pull of the Red Sox. It's as if the team exerts its own gravity. There are so many manic sports fans in this town and the intimacy of having Fenway Park right smack in the middle of things gives fans a sense of ownership. But geography is not the only reason. Baseball itself is a beautiful game.

I've heard the criticism--it's too slow, they play too many games, it's boring to watch. I don't agree with any of it.

Baseball is an elegant game. It's a game of strategy and mental focus as much as it is about hitting or pitching. It's a beautifully balanced game. Think about the distance between home plate and 1st base, for example. If the distance were increased, far fewer batters could reach and the fielder would be able to beat the runner with a throw nearly all the time. If the distance were decreased, a runner would likely beat the fielder's throw and on base percentages would go through the roof. But balanced as it is, it takes a smart hit for the offense to gain the base and smart fielding for the defense to prevent it.

Pitchers and hitters have their own balance. It takes more than a smoking fast ball to be a good starting pitcher. The pitcher has to have a repertoire of pitches and the control to put them where he wants them. (Well, except for the knuckleballers--I'm not even sure Tim Wakefield knows where any of his pitches will end up. God love Mirabelli. I have no idea how he catches for Wake.) On the batter's side, it's not all about brute strength and swing. Without discipline at the plate, a keen eye for a pitch, and patience, even the strongest of hitters will strike out far more often than hit.

It's also a game of contrasts. Hitting is a relatively solo endeavor. One man at the plate going one on one with one man on the pitcher's mound. But talk about the defense and it's all about the teamwork. Is there anything more beautiful than a pitcher forcing a hitter into a ground ball that gets handled as an elegant double play? That takes coordination. That takes trust. That's teamwork.

I also love the fact that the players have to be multi-faceted athletes. They need strength and speed, flexibility and endurance.

And say what you will about the big money, the greedy owners, the greedy players, there is something about the process of player development that works in baseball. The farm system helps players get ready for the pressure of the big leagues. Having a place to send a player for rehab means that you have a process for injury management. I don't think it's an accident that you see professional baseball players easily in their 40s when you don't see many football or basketball players in their 4th decades. The average age of baseball players is also older than the average age of football and basketball players. I think that leads to less stupidity off the field. And with so many games and the length of the season, there's less time for players to hit the news for items unrelated to their sport of choice.

Leaving that aside, there's another reason I'm passionate about baseball. It brings back memories from my childhood. I think my dad wanted a son. He got a second daughter instead. One of the ways we bonded was over baseball. We used to listen to Mets games on the AM radio. Often, we would sit in the car, parked in our driveway to hear the games. We could have listened in the house, but there was something special about just the two of us listening in the dark car, the game coming alive in our minds under the skill of the sportscasters.

I've introduced my children to the joy of listening to baseball on the radio. And my dad, retired and living in Florida, now roots for the Red Sox in honor of the daughter who grew up to love baseball.

It's October. Still summer if baseball is being played.

Go Sox!

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