The Rites of Spring
Man, oh, man do I love baseball. I look forward to opening day like I look forward to little else, especially in the sporting world. I can plop my rear in front of the TV and watch a three-hour tilt between two horrible teams and pay attention like I would be tested in two years on how many pitches Toby Hall faced in each at-bat. I can watch the same episode of Baseball Tonight three times in a row and learn something new each time. I hope that, when I'm 55, I look exactly like Peter Gammons.
Okay, maybe not that last one. But, as you can probably tell, baseball is my favorite sport. It wasn't always that way. Ten years ago, baseball was perhaps only a notch over all other sport "flavors" that I devoted my considerable free time to. In high school I had nearly equal interest in baseball, pro football, college football, pro basketball, college basketball, and hockey. And, yes, I did have a lot of time on my hands. Growing up in Austin, Minnesota, didn't necessarily afford a person a lot of diverse opportunities.
Entering college presented me with a foretaste of my schedule to come-- no longer did I have an entire weekend to watch the Gophers basketball team take on Purdue, followed by the Knicks and Pacers tilt, topped off with a Blues/Blackhawks game for dessert. There was serious partying to think about! Er.. studying. St. Olaf was a dry campus. As responsibilities increased, leisure time for watching sports decreased, lopping off both college sports, the NHL and the NBA. Really no big losses.
That leaves the NFL and baseball. I do get very excited about football, especially the Vikings. In my mind, football games automatically associate with autumn weekends, the best times of the year. As Sara found out, I go MIA for about 5 hours every Sunday during the NFL season as my friends and I gather to eat frozen pizzas, drink Schmidt's (deer) beer, and watch the Vikings secondary get toasted by mediocre second-year opposing quarterbacks. It's easy to see why football is appealing-- fairly constant action, excitement, and steroid-enhanced millionaires trying to tear each others' heads off.
Baseball, however, is the clear winner. Not to say the sport isn't without its problems. Any left-hander with a pulse can make $2 million a year. The commissioner, Buddy Selig, is
a) a moron
b) a puppet used by owners
c) the most obvious example of a conflict of interest since George W. asked Ken Lay what the national energy policy should be
d) a condescending horses' rear who tried to act all detached and pious while attempting to kill the Twins and claimed it wouldn't benefit his team in Milwaukee and would @#* his own grandmother over if it meant he would gain a $#&**%$...
Ahem. Sorry. Anyway, baseball certainly has issues. The fact that they can blackmail states to get new stadiums by threatening to move the teams makes me want to go off on another curse-filled rant. But here's the important part-- once the game starts, that's all that counts. It's an amazing game. It gives me goosebumps just thinking about standing and cheering while the Twins run out onto the field. And that's in the Metrodome, the most antiseptic baseball atmosphere ever created. Seeing Christian Guzman hit a ball to the gap in left-center and knowing, at that moment, he's thinking triple all the way, no matter what. Seeing Eric Milton face Chuck Knoblauch, going ahead 0-2, then 3-2, and strike him out swinging. It is truly Miller Time.
Part of the love of baseball for me is the enormous amount of statistics that it provides. Although not a Robo-fan (as the Sports Guy terms them here), I enjoy the numbers behind the game immensely. For example, on Tuesday, Curt Schilling threw 79 pitches in seven innings-- 60 were strikes. Phenomenal. Barry Bonds, besides hitting 73 home runs last year, also garnered 177 walks. That brought his at-bat total down to a paltry 476, meaning he hit a home run every 6.5 at-bats!!!! Eddie Guardado is on pace to get 162 saves this season.
Things like that are just great. My wife gets the Derek Lowe face whenever I start spouting baseball numbers. She's SO excited that baseball season has started. Now it'll be a nightly battle over the remote-- will it be Twins-Blue Jays or the Lifetime Movie of the Week: Not Without My Daughter II: Deception of Justice. Refer to that Sports Guy article and you'll see who wins. :) Incidentally, I left a valuable website off of my favorites list a couple weeks back-- Baseball-reference.com. Can't remember who played shortstop for the Red Sox in 1992? How many starts did Rick Aguilera make for the Twins in 1996? How many times has Rickey Henderson played for Oakland? It's all there. Lovely. (For those of you scoring at home, the answers to the above questions are Luis Rivera, 19, and four, respectively.)
And... I'd be negligent if I didn't mention the Saratoga Springs Sea Bass (w/ laser beams on their heads), my fantasy team. Yup, I'm one of those guys. And, I LOVE it. Completely addicted. I spent hours preparing for this years' draft. It's the first thing I do when I get into work in the morning. When the sandbox.com site is down, I'm a cranky bitch. I spend more time analyzing Carlos Guillen's potential effect on my point total than I do actual work during the day. I check four fantasy baseball websites for advice before dropping Roger Cedeno. I am a complete sports rube when it comes to this, and I'm happy to be so. I did finish second last year. And, look who's in first so far this year, me boy! That's teriffic bass!
Yeah, the games are long. Over three hours in most cases. The league wants to impose more changes to speed up the games. You want to know my opinion? Leave it alone. We're don't all think that everything needs to be flashy and fast. Can we be allowed not transform everything into something that the MTV generation will enjoy? Part of the beauty of baseball is that you can appreciate it by only watching part of it. You can appreciate listening to a baseball game on the radio while doing something else-- driving, yard work, creating Visio diagrams outlining process flows. Have you ever listened to a football game on the radio? Sucks. Have you ever watched an edited baseball game where they cut from pitch to pitch? Sucks. Baseball is a game you can casually enjoy without needing to focus 100% of your attention on it 100% of the time. Baseball needs one-hour games like it needs explosions, rap music, and Britney Spears. Let me casually enjoy the game. Let it be.
I love the game. I'm passionate about it. I was in a funk for most of the winter when the Twins were nearly eliminated-- I didn't want to think about spring without the Twinkies. You can argue that I'm putting too much importance on a game. But, to be honest, what is life without games? It's a form of play, and without that, life is all work. And not very fun. And since life is truly nasty, brutish, and short-- let's play ball.
The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It's been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again.
--James Earl Jones as
Field Of Dreams, 1989
Selig image courtesy of www.nocontraction.com