Inside Baseball

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I have been a baseball fan my entire life. Although there was a time when I was far too busy to follow the game or attend any of my brother’s games. I do not feel any regret for dropping any of the professional game’s doings, but I do have unending guilt for having missed my brother’s games. I was in the midst of starting a family and cultivating a career. There was no extra time in my life to allot to following the careers of those being paid millions to play the game I would have played freely only a few years before. Nor did I have any time to follow my favorite team. With 162 games to follow and 30 teams, there was no room in my simple brain to shoehorn in anything more than my job, keeping up the house, nurturing my young marriage and learning to be a father to twins. However, I should have made the time to see my brother play or at least to have inquired as to his success more often than I did.

Now the kids are all but off on their own and my wife has died. My career is a priority again after seven years as I focus once again on my job instead of my wife’s disease. I have just purchased a condo, so most of the upkeep that previously occupied my mind has been alleviated. And so, now I return to the game I love. I still only have so much room in my aging mind to keep track of statistics, so I find it easier to follow the local team instead of my boyhood team. To be sure, I still keep tabs on the Cincinnati Reds, but I also enjoy watching the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. I am one of the few people that can be a fan of both the Yankees and the Red Sox. In fact, I will usually root for the team behind in the standings whenever they play one another.

I spent the majority of my life hating the Red Sox. I was raised deep in Red Sox Nation and found that their fans were not baseball fans but Red Sox fans, a crime profoundly egregious to me. I found that those who followed only the Red Sox could not name many other players on any other team, nor tell me much about any other team. I was raised that this was an affront to true baseball fans. Now that I have reached middle age and have interests and obligations beyond baseball fandom, I understand why some limit their exposure to the local team. I try to keep track of other teams and succeed for brief periods of time; however, it is infinitely easier to keep abreast of the goings on of your local team when the news and newspapers are flush with necessary information. Unfortunately, due to my wife’s passing, I have an exceedingly large amount of free time now. I find that watching baseball on television not only fills the house with necessary sound to drown out the din of my ringing ears, but it wards off the loneliness being alone causes.

And it is not a question of latching on to a winner as the Red Sox are, I believe, destined to land in the middle of their division by season’s end, mostly due to the fact that they are both young at most positions and the fact that they do not have a starting rotation to compete throughout the year. I will keep track of other teams and certain individual players and once October rolls around, I will be wholeheartedly invested in the post season.

Baseball has been accused of being an old and dying game by some, including some big league players. However, I think it is a game which demands the best of a player on several layers, unlike most other team sports. Much of the mental game going on in a baseball game can go unnoticed by the casual fan. There are set plays in football that either work or don’t. There are very few set plays in baseball as each pitch represents a variety of opportunities. Should the pitcher throw inside and low, outside and high, off speed, a curve, slider, knuckleball, or bring the high heat with a two-seam fastball or a four-seam? Will the batter be thinking the same as the pitcher and try to take the outside pitch to the opposite field or try to pull the inside fastball? And what of the player on first base? Will he be looking to run? Will there be a hit and run, a bunt to move him along, will the batter try to hit behind the runner? And where does the defense align themselves? Are the middle infielders set to turn a double play, are the outfielders pulled in and on the lines to prevent a ball getting past them in the late innings? What signs is the manager flashing to the catcher? What signs have the catcher and first baseman worked out together? What about the signs the third base coach is flashing to the batter and man on first? Most of this invisible game is missed by the casual observer and it all resets after the next pitch.

Don’t get me wrong, baseball is not inhabited by brilliant people. Most players are no brighter than the average jock, but they are dedicated and knowledgeable of their profession. And it is incumbent upon the fan to follow along or risk having the game seem slow and boring. There is usually so much going on inside the game that there are rarely boring periods of the game. To get into a game at the deepest levels as a fan is to see a chess match played out in front of you. And it sets up the fan to participate in conjecture before each pitch. This is anything but boring. And that is not mentioning the physics involved in the game. Consider how difficult it is to hit a small sphere with a thin cylinder. Only one spot on the sphere will ever come into contact with the thin cylinder at a given time. Now try to place where you want the small sphere to go while the deliverer of the small sphere takes advantage of the effects the atmosphere has on the lacing of the small sphere by throwing it in order to have it curve inside, outside or down, seemingly in defiance of the laws of physics. Now do all of that while 50,000 people are staring at you some expecting you to hit the small sphere a long way with your thin cylinder while others are hoping the deliverer of the small sphere can get the small sphere past you and into a predetermined zone acceptable to an arbitrator standing behind you. No, baseball is not an easy game, nor is it boring.

Baseball has been very good to me even when I was not very good to it. I have gone from a rabid fan to a father/husband and now to a fan again. Play ball.