Saturday, April 2, 2016

B is for Baseball!


If antiques are my hobby, baseball is my mistress.  My love for the game goes back to childhood but one could argue that it is genetic.  My grandfather was in major league camp with a team that plays in St. Louis when he slid into second base and broke his ankle.  This was in the 20's I believe.   He went back home to recover and his mother, my great grandmother became ill.  Him being the only one available, his baseball career ended when he had to take care of his mother. 

My mother grew up on baseball.  My brother and I learned our love of the game from her.  When we went on vacation, we always went somewhere that had a major league team.  We would spend our summer vacations going from one amusement park and ballpark to the next.  

My first memory of baseball is Wrigley Field and the Chicago Cubs.  I spent my summers watching day games from Wrigley and we finally took a trip to the ballpark when I was about 9.  I loved the game and the place.  

Finally, when my mother decided to relocate from Indiana, one of the things she made sure of, was that we had a baseball team to cheer.  This is how I went from being a Chicago Cubs fan to a Texas Rangers fan.  For years my joke was that between the two clubs I had 150 years of pointless baseball. 

That all changed in 2010 when my Texas Rangers went to the World Series for the first time and I went with them.  I had never experienced anything like a World Series game and so in 2011 when the Rangers went back, I was at every game played in Arlington.  After the collapse in game 6 and eventual lose in game 7 of that season, I assumed a fetal position for about 6 months.  The thing about giving yourself over to a team, a game, is that you eventually end up living and dying with the game. 

Last year I got to share playoff baseball with my husband for the first time.  That was amazing for a few reasons, first is that he is a Dallas Cowboy fan and only watches baseball when he has nothing better to do.   Also, he takes a football approach to baseball which has caused marital strife more than once.  Finally, I came to the conclusion that I could not talk with him about baseball so I would just enjoy some games with him and let him have his own opinion.   This wasn't easy.

Many people don't actually understand the lure of the game of baseball.  There isn't the constant action like football.  There isn't the fast pace like basketball and hockey.  There is a soft and gentle torture to baseball and the season itself.  On opening day the season seems endless but before you know it, September rolls around and the mad dash for playoff spots begins.  My football fan husband will tell you that there is no point to 1 game of 162 game season but again, that is because he doesn't understand.  The game won in May means as much as the game won in September.  Baseball is a marathon not a sprint.  If you lose a game in May and lose a playoff spot by one game, that game means as much as any loss.   The problem is the casual baseball fan doesn't understand, can't comprehend the importance of a single game.  The truth is, each game matters just as much as the rest but, like a good mystery novel, you don't know everything until the end of the season. 

But baseball is slow for other reasons.  It is the only game without a clock.   Nine innings may be played in an hour and a half or it could take five hours.  There is no overtime in baseball, we have extra innings.  I have been to a game that lasted over 18 innings.  By the time that game ended, I didn't care who won, I just wanted the game to end.  The Rangers won but not before I was red as a lobster from the hot Texas sun.  Rules are rules however and in baseball, you play until you don't.

Baseball rules don't change, they remain the same basic rules that have existed for over a century, in organized sport.  Speaking of organized baseball, it is the oldest sport.  The National League was founded in 1876 and is known as the senior circuit.  The American League came to existence in 1901.  They play by the same basic rules except one, the American League has the designated hitter and the National League does not.  This means that the pitcher hits in the NL and you will rarely ever see a pitcher hit outside of interleague play in the AL.  Did you know however, that the DH rule didn't start until 1973?  Up until that time, both leagues had pitchers hitting.

To put in perspective how old baseball is in comparison to other sports, the NHL started in 1917, the NFL started in 1920, and the NBA didn't begin until 1946.   It isn't a surprise to find out that baseball began as America was celebrating it's 100 year anniversary.   There is no sport more tied to our past and part of our present than baseball.  Oh, I know many people will argue (my husband among them) that America is a country of football fans.   Believe me, I live outside Dallas Texas.  I understand people love football.  I would argue however, that baseball is the true sport of this country. 

Baseball is the only sport playing on July 4th and what holiday is more American than July 4th? American's are proud of our romantic history from the founding fathers to the victories of World War II and beyond. Baseball is a romantic love affair between a team, players and fans.  Obviously it is played on a diamond.  What is more romantic that a diamond?  Baseball is a long haul.  It starts in the spring and ends in the fall and along the way are many lazy, warm or in the case of Texas Rangers baseball fans, very hot and sometimes miserably hot, summer nights.  Baseball is not played in a stadium, it is played in a park.  Parks are friendly, unique and welcoming, stadiums are big, bland, and uniform.  No two baseball fields are the same, unlike the rest of the sports who have the exact same playing field no matter what stadium you visit.    Baseball and hot dogs go together and add a beer and you have America.  Americans are loyal and no fans are more loyal and true than baseball fans.  Think about it, they have to commit to at least 6 months for their team and longer if they make the playoffs.  I have really never met better people than baseball fans. *Yankee fans are excluded from this, naturally.

In the end, baseball is as much a mental game as anything else. I like football, especially college football, but I don't have to watch the game and think.  Mostly I just sit back and see what plays happen.  In baseball I am constantly thinking about offensive or defensive plays.  To bunt or not to bunt, that is the question.  To hit and run? To sacrifice fly?  What is the best strategy?   Baseball fans are constantly thinking about the game.  Some need an intervention, it's true.   Loyal and smart fans, that is baseball.

What is your favorite sport or team?  Do you have  a love affair with them?

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