For Love of the Game
There’s a slight chill in the air as I lean forward in my seat on a Saturday evening. It’s good to be back in Yankee stadium. With my dad by my side, a mounting buzz fills the air and my heart begins to accelerate. The Bronx Bombers are down, but in the bottom of the ninth threatening to come back and tie things up. Could they do it?
Many have written about the beauty of baseball, and though I’m sure much of what I’m about to say has been said before, I’d rather get up and take my swings than stay in the dugout. So indulge me as I touch upon why I feel baseball is a diamond of a game.
First off, baseball is mystical. It stands within its own paradigm, free of some of the universe’s most basic laws. In part, space is not confined in the sport. One can say that the first and third base lines go on forever. Theoretically a ball can be crushed into oblivion and never hit a wall, or it can sail off into foul territory, leaving us in the dark as to whether or not one day it will land fair.
Time is also defied in baseball. In theory, a game can go on forever. It is not bound by a clock or the definitive decision of some authority, but the final run or out. Like Yogi Berra once said, “It ain’t over til’ it’s over.” This has provided the stage for hope in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles…when all seems lost, there is still that possibility, that glimmer no matter how faint, that the game’s fate is yet to be decided.
And this, of course, opens the door for heroes. In baseball, a nobody can become a somebody with one redeeming swing, one mesmerizing play in the outfield, one scorching fastball that cannot be caught up with. That player may yet emerge as a future star or he might only be remembered on the field for that single moment. But that one moment, those so many moments throughout the years, ignite a fire in us and catch our eye. No other sport leaves the opportunity for heroics so attainable, yet so dazzling, awe-inspiring and fleeting.
And these heroes speckle the span of America’s pastime, linking the past to the present and contributing to a reverence for this “game”. Every team looks fondly on the great players that have run around the diamond in years past and aspires to connect the dots from then to now. Whether it’s last year’s Cardinals winking at the St. Louis glory of old, Joey Votto looking over his shoulder at Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine, or Derek Jeter being mentioned with Babe Ruth as one of the all-time Yankee greats, baseball is anchored to the past while freely sailing in the present. It is its own field of dreams, where the present day players play catch with the ghosts of yesterday.
And this detailed history is only dwarfed by the details in the game. Baseball is a game of nuances, employing a boggling collection of statistical categories. Besides the standard hits, runs, strikeouts, etc., there are lesser known measurements such as WHIP, OPS, and SLG. Oh, but that’s just the beginning. What is the batter’s weak pitch? Is he better against lefties or righties? How about nighttime games? How about when there are two strikes? The questions never stop, and the layers of the game pile on top of each other. Maybe it isn’t that baseball is slow…maybe you just haven’t dug deep enough yet to see all the action.
It turns out that on that Saturday night the Yankees never did complete the comeback. And as a fan, I was disappointed. But that’s life, ain’t it?
But maybe that’s what is most enticing about baseball after all; how this sport, this mere game, mimics our existence. You win, you lose, the unexpected happens, but you gotta get up the next day to play. It’s a long season, wrought with injuries, failures, strikeouts and home runs. You may take a rough loss or have an exhilarating victory, but the next day it’s time to step up to the plate and take your swings at whatever comes your way.