Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Baseball: Why I love it and maybe you should too.

Yes, you heard right- I did promise talk of baseball. Surprised much? Well don't be, because I'm not doing the talking. I've turned over the reigns of BelleoftheBallgame to a fellow blogger and baseball enthusiast known in the realm of the internets as Shameless Travels. If you ever crave a story of adventurous travels, check this guy out. So just in time for the closing acts of the Word Series (Go Rangers!), here he is to give us the compelling reasons why we should care about baseball. Anywho, without further ado...

No true red-blooded American would ever dare say football is boring. Of course not – we plan the meal of second biggest national holiday around what time the Cowboys game kicks off. Anything less would be un-American, bordering perhaps on light treason. Our national pastime, on the other hand, doesn’t share the same immunity. Baseball is boring – a line I hear about as often as “Hey, Glee is actually a really good show!” To be honest, I don’t know which statement is more disappointing.

I won’t attempt to dispute that the game often moves pretty damn slow. I will, however, maintain that the perceived ‘boringness’ of the game, among other things, is a very important aspect of what makes me love the sport. It’s also important to remember that the alleged boringness of baseball is just that. Consider the following.

I’ve met many sports-loving English, Australian and other foreign folks who have told me, with sincerity, that American football is boring. Then, to add insult to insult, they go on to talk about the delights of soccer. When I would ask them how they could possibly think that, they’d explain how an exciting game – like soccer – is always moving, with non-stop engagement and drama. In American football, however, play is only for a brief moment. The rest of the game is just standing around in a huddle, waddling down the field, calling timeouts, killing clock and getting set at the line. All this, they argue, builds up for another 6 measly seconds of action before the process repeats. They say there is just too much down time, not enough continual action… Sound familiar?

You see, what we perceive as clear and undisputed entertainment value doesn’t actually stem from a sport having an innate captivating quality. No, how you feel about football, baseball, soccer or any sport for that matter comes down to your familiarity, understanding and past personal experiences. That’s what makes any sport exciting to us. These elements are what make baseball so great for me. And it all starts with my personal experiences…

I grew up worshiping God (who I thought was my minister), Jesus (who I thought was a woman), Santa (who I thought brought me presents) and Nolan Ryan (who became a Texas Ranger in 1989). In reality, Nolan was a pitcher reaching the twilight of his career. But, as I understood it, he still threw balls of fire, had well over a million strikeouts and on special occasions, beat the shit out of Robin Ventura.

During the early ‘90s, my world was completely inundated with Ryan. He donned the cover of my very first baseball card binder – wearing a generic baseball uniform and sporting a high leg kick. He was featured in holographic cards in kid’s meals at Whataburger, forcing children to force their mothers into a trip through the drive-thru (a commitment for me since I believed the restaurant was called ‘Waterburger,’ because they soaked their hamburgers in water). In 1993, my Dad took my brother and I to ‘Nolan Ryan Day’ at the old ballpark. It ended up being the last home game he would ever pitch. Shortly afterward, he blew his arm out in Seattle, becoming the last pitcher who had played in the 1960’s to hang it up.

Where one career ended, another, albeit slightly less historic, began. Inspired by Nolan, movies and the prospect of impressing older women, I began playing little league ball in the 1st grade. I played for around 8 seasons, collecting numerous plastic trophies, game balls and memories I have come to regard fondly. These include, but are not limited too, picking long stocks of grass in right field, wetting myself in the dugout after too many cups of Big Red and getting continually scolded by our coach – my friends and my personal favorite. Naturally, these verbal lashings were brought on by everything from climbing trees to playing catch with lemons to running the bases with flailing arms. During games, I remember coach grabbing us by the shoulder, leaning down to eye level and lecturing us though clinched teeth (in a failed effort to prevent the smell of what I’d later come to know as whiskey from escaping his mouth). A few innings later, when victory was completely out of the question, coach and his graying stubble were missing in the dugout. He was gone. Then someone noticed, far in the distance, out of the shine of the big lights, the red ember of a single lit cigarette patrolling the land beyond the center field fence. That’s where coach had gone. That’s when we’d know the game was over. For some reason I enjoy those memories as much as some of my best driving catches.

Although I loved playing the sport, nothing ever matched my enthusiasm for collecting baseball cards. Every last penny I came in contact with from the age of 7 through 14 went to the chain-smoking, racist card store owner down the street. On most Saturdays, my friend Ben and I would buy a bunch of packs, sit down at a small table by the old Coke machine and tear through them like we were expecting to find the golden ticket. Afterwards, we'd grab the store’s copy of the latest Beckett price guide. For thirty minutes, Ben and I would pass it back and forth, confirming beyond a doubt that nothing we had purchased was worth anything. But, name any player from the ‘90s, who was in the show for at least two years, and I guarantee I'll have his card. He'll be among all fifteen thousand of his friends, still under my bed, biding their time, until one day they'll be worth enough to make 1/4th of my money back.

As the years passed, collecting pocket-sized pictures of grown men with mustaches suddenly became un-cool. It certainly didn’t impress the girls. Thankfully, watching the same men in live-action was still okay. So, through high school and into college I shifted from collector to spectator. And as with any sport, the more I learned, the more entertaining it became to watch. Each play, pitch, at bat, and subtle game move became an intriguing component of the grand strategy. Eventually, even the undeniably dull moments became entertaining…

One game, several summers back, I was watching the Rangers play the Orioles on TV. It was in the fourth inning and the game was going so slow that the highlight the inning was when a butterfly landed on the hat of the Orioles second baseman. This insect commanded the attention of my favorite announcers, Tom Grieve and Josh Lewin, and the cameras until the next commercial break. Highlights of the discussion included why the butterfly landed on the top of the infielder’s hat (was it attracted to the bird?), whether it was a sign of good fortune, whether the second baseman knew it was on his hat and whether the butterfly would sit atop our second baseman’s hat in the next inning. It was then deliberated what species of butterfly it was. One announcer suggested it was a monarch, but the other was quick to shoot that idea down. After another minute or so of studying the creature, it was finally decided that it was not a butterfly, but rather a moth – and an ugly moth at that.

Now, I enjoy most every game I watch, whether they are nail-bitters, which leave me screaming at the television, or blowouts, which leave the announcers discussing insects at length. I understand, however, that without some type of similar nostalgic backlog, your enthusiasm for baseball may still be lacking. I also realize that simply reading this isn’t going change that. But, with that in mind, I only have two small requests… the first is to simply recognize why, to people like myself, baseball isn’t boring… even when it is. The second is to go out to the Ballpark in Arlington one evening next summer and follow this simple plan: Chug four beers in the parking lot, purchase a bunch of dollar hotdogs, find your seat in the nosebleeds and let the night sky roll in. Then, if the spirit moves you, pound a few more back and taunt the family of four rooting for the opposing team sitting nearby. After all, nothing’s more American than baseball, beer, hotdogs and berating those supporting a different cause. Enjoy our pastime and thank me later.

1 comment:

  1. Bring on the hot dogs! I can eat 6 of the dollar dogs before I stop, trying to maintain some dignity. Even in a ball park.