So, now and then, someone will ask me about sports. Something along the lines of What sports do you like? Which are your favourite? Which have you played?
Now as a not particularly athletic Jewish guy, those were always tough questions.
I could say “I used to play soccer” or “I used to play basketball” or even “I used to play baseball.” It’s all true, but for me that’s kind of like saying “I used to study Spanish.” If you count the single year I studied the language in high school to mean much of anything.
But if I’m really feeling honest, I’ll say I sometimes watch baseball. Which, for some reason, feels like a guilty admission. There’s this silence afterward, the question “why?” hanging unspoken in the air.
The usual response I get is, “Don’t you find it boring?”
Well, in many ways, yes.
Scratch, spit, look around…throw a ball. Rinse, repeat.
For three fucking hours.
And what’s with the spitting anyway? It’s disgusting and completely inappropriate in an age of HD television. Baseball should just ban the practice.
And there’s another thing. We watch sports to see human athletic prowess at its best. Performing feats we can only dream of. But, you don’t necessarily have to be fit to play some positions in baseball. Be strong, yes. Have a good throwing arm, yes. But, you can be kind of, well, fat and be an excellent pitcher or catcher. I’ve seen players thrown out because it takes them too long to lumber down the base paths.
And of course, there’s the drugs. I love that Jose Bautista is a home-run king for the Blue Jays…. But his turn-around a few years back was kind of sudden. I’m not saying he uses PEDs, but it’s harder to trust these days. And that’s probably because there’s a whole period of baseball with a gigantic asterisk permanently attached to it.
There’s something beautiful in every at bat.
A chess match, a game within a game. The pitcher must figure out how to get the ball past the batter. There’s no other option. You cannot run out the clock in baseball.
And the pitcher must do this while trying to keep the ball within a narrow rectangle, roughly from the knees to the shoulders of the batter. Or they must put so much spin on the ball that it moves into or out of the rectangle in mid-flight, fooling the batter into thinking the pitch is something other than it really is.
And the batter in turn has to try and intuit what the pitcher will do next. Because with a ball hurling towards you at 100 mph, you really don’t have much time to decide whether to swing.
In effect, with every pitch, the batter and the hitter try to out-think each other.
And then there are the quiet moments of strategy. Should a hitter bunt to help move a runner over, probably sacrificing himself in the process? Should a manager work the statistics and bring in a left-handed reliever to face a left-handed batter?
And while the catcher can be a little slow, the fielders have to be in excellent shape. The precision and skill required to catch a ball, turn around in mid-air, and throw it accurately in the opposite direction.
And there’s the human factor. The anxious young pitcher struggling with his control, basically a kid in a stadium, as tens of thousands judge him on every pitch.
And yes, it is a long game. Too long maybe. But the long wait makes you more invested in those games that come down to the wire, the bottom of the ninth.
The Blue Jays were recently on a nine-game winning streak. I knew it wouldn’t last, but watching all the little things come together gave me geeky pleasure all the same.