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Baseball’s back, and all is right with the world

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Old Baseball and Glove on Faded WoodWatched some baseball on TV last night and woke up feeling rested and optimistic. Switching channels to the NCAA finale also was good for the mood, but the big credit goes to baseball. If you’re watching baseball, you’re either retired or you worked your day out just right.

Watching baseball is like reading a good book. It takes patience to get to the really good parts, and the good parts make you forget about the waiting. Watching baseball is like weeding the garden. It’s incremental and rewarding in a subtle way. At the end of the furrow, nothing has been created but something has been accomplished.

Baseball is an old movie, black and white even when it isn’t. You may have seen the pre-season TV commercials for the Giants, showing the end of last year’s World Series mostly in black and white. Good commercials.

Because I like baseball, I suppose I should like soccer. Like baseball, soccer is a process. What happens in the third inning, or the tenth minute, sets the stage for what happens in the seven inning or the final minute. But they’re always moving in soccer and there aren’t enough pauses, fresh starts. And if you didn’t run around soccer fields when you were a kid, the game doesn’t have the nostalgic appeal of baseball.

I was, of course, one of the worst baseball players ever. My little league was on an Air Force base. There were four teams each year, the Flyers, Jets, Rockets and Pilots. Hats were blue, red, green and yellow, in that order. No one wanted to be a Pilot because of the yellow. My best friend was the best player and he had enough pull with the coaches to save me from the yellow.

I like basketball, too, but football not so much. Football fans are too loud. And football players are almost anonymous with all that hardware welded onto their helmets. In baseball, you can see faces. Hunter Pence should be seen. You recognize your favorites by the way they stand at the plate.

Football players have to rest up for a week. Baseball players play all the time. If you miss a game, no worries, there will be another one tomorrow. If you can’t watch, they’re worth listening to on the radio. If only there was a way to have Vin Scully talk us through every game.

It would be better if there were still double-headers. Your day was baseball and nothing else except for getting there and back.

3d rendering of a Baseball on a pitchers mound

Baseball is a warm evening, a sip of whiskey, a poem that makes sense the first time through. It doesn’t have to be pro ball. Knowing that the boys of summer are millionaires washes some of the charm away, so a high school game, an American Legion game if they still have those, even a softball game at the schoolyard down the street is worth a few minutes or a few hours.

Some of my friends love to memorize the numbers of baseball, the batting averages and the obscure statistics like number of times reaching base against a left-handed pitcher from another hemisphere. TRBLPHs, for short. They like to argue about baseball. Roberto Clemente or some other fellow?

I don’t have a head for that stuff. But I can remember in great detail how Mickey Mantle looked catching a deep fly while we watched it on TV and my dad ate pretzels and clam dip and drank Oly beer and forgot just for a while to be upset about this or that. I remember Dizzy Dean singing the Wabash Cannonball during the seventh-inning stretch and my dad waking up and singing along, like we didn’t have a care in the world.

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I realize I may be far more excited about the World Series, which starts this week, than many Americans. Already there are predictions the series will produce television ratings so low that the whole thing should be banished to the back of a minor-league bus rambling through the hinterlands.

But It is an intriguing matchup between Middle America and the Left Coast, as represented by the Kansas City Royals and the San Francisco Giants.

The Royals, whose fans have decked a decidedly red state in a prairie of blue (their uniforms are royal blue and cloud white), have captured the imagination of baseball cognoscenti throughout the land. They haven’t been to the World Series since 1985, and the current team plays defense with the speed, grace and will of Marvel super heroes.

The Giants, an orange-and-black mix of old hands, rookies, recycled pitchers and cool customers, are making a serious bid to become one of the greatest baseball dynasties of all time. They won it all in 2010 and 2012, and, by gosh, this is another even-numbered year, so the good vibes are vibrating for the team by the Bay.

Just the music that will be played around the edges of the game should be magical. Charlie Parker, the prophet of modern jazz, hailed from Kansas City, the destination of a thousand bands who’ve sung joyously of going to Kansas City.

San Francisco had its sound, and still has Tony Bennett singing about cable cars and stars. And yes, two members of the Grateful Dead likely will sing the National Anthem before one game with the Giants’ third-base coach. That’s just the way The City rolls.

And unlike the other two major sports, football and baseball, in which identified stars inevitably decide the outcome of contests for all the marbles, baseball’s World Series has a way of shining halos above the heads of the unlikeliest members on the 25-man rosters.

What other sport has a play as simple and, at the same time, as complex as the sacrifice bunt? It is the 120-year antithesis to the self-adulation that accompanies every sack in football and every alley-oop jam in basketball.

I could go on and on about the many dimensions of complexity just under the surface of a game where, at any moment, the players are either standing around or sitting on a sunken bench. But I won’t. Other writers and filmmakers have done it far better.

And again, the casual baseball fan’s two most common questions arising during the World Series — “Why do they spit and scratch themselves so much?” — will go unanswered.

But this World Series will keep baseballers in Northern California and the rest of the world transfixed over the next several days. And people who choose not to tune in, of course, won’t know what they are missing. Bush-leaguers.

My prediction: Giants in six.

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