Feb 14, 2007

Love for Baseball

On Valentine's Day, the love comes out for the greatest game in the world.

Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter: "I think because everybody can relate. You don't have to be seven feet tall; you don't have to be a certain size to play. Baseball is up and down. I think life's like that sometimes, you know. Back and forth, up and down, you're going through this grind. I think people like watching it. Baseball's like a soap opera every day."

Ernie Banks, Cubs legend and Hall of Famer: "It's just life. When I think about baseball, it's just life. It's really the way life is. It requires a lot of mental capacity to be involved in it. It creates a lot of joy for people and memories for people who follow it. It's a family. You like it because it's a family. You started with it and know all these people -- it's family, it's friends, it's fun, it's a beautiful game. All in all, baseball is amazing.

Joel Kweskin, 56, White Sox fan based in Charlotte, N.C.: "It's unique unto itself. Football, basketball and hockey are variations of the same concept -- back and forth in a linear progression to score a goal. Baseball, however, is mapped out on the field unlike any other sport. A running back or return specialist can run 100 yards, tops; a baserunner legging out an inside-the-park homer runs 20 yards farther. Baseball is the most democratic of sports -- any size can play, and because the ball is not controlled by the offense but rather the defense, every player at any given time is involved in a play. Along with the anecdotally accepted premise that hitting a pitched baseball is the single most difficult thing to do in sports, so might be fielding a 175-mph line drive or grounder down the line. I love baseball because it is the greatest game ever invented."

Former Royals star Willie Wilson: "The first thing is, I don't think there's any criteria for size, so anybody can play. I think people can relate. A lot of people never played football; basketball, you've gotta be tall and be able to jump. But baseball is a game where you pick up a bat and a ball, and you catch it, you swing the bat and you hit the ball. Most people have played softball or some kind of baseball, so they can relate to the sport. For me, that's why I think America just embraces baseball, man."
Yankee Blogger Travis G.: Where to start? I think better when I make a list.
1. Players. The requirements to be a good baseball player are very undefined. You can be short, tall, thin, chunky, anything really. You name the greats and you get tall and chunky (Ruth), short and chunky (Yogi, Gwynn), tall and thin (Jeter, Mo), short and thin (Ichiro). They may not be the best athletes in the world (e.g. David Wells), but they're the best at the specific skill set that baseball requires.
2. The Mentality. Baseball requires more intelligence than any other sport (save for NFL QB). Simply put, every hitter that steps to the plate is trying to out-think the pitcher, and vice versa. 4-5 times a game, focus has to be completely on the man in front of him. Will he throw a fastball, curve, change? If you take an at-bat (or even a pitch) off, you're toast. Same thing with the pitcher. The only other sport that comes close is football, but it's mainly for the QBs. Baseball requires every single player to have good mental capacity.
3. The Field. Football, hockey, basketball and soccer all use essentially the same type of field/playing surface: a rectangle. Baseball uses a diamond. It's not only unique in that aspect, but every single ballpark is unique amongst the sport. Each park has its own quirks and intricacies that make it special. Not a single other sport can say that. Yankee Stadium has Death Valley, the short RF porch, and the facade. Fenway has the Monster. Shea has the apple. Wrigley has the ivy-covered brick. Pac Bell (or whatever it's called now) has the bay in RF. Houston has the hill in center. KC has the waterfall. Imagine if the RCA Dome's field was only 95 yards; that's the equivalent of Death Valley or the Green Monster.
4. One on One. Basically the speech DeNiro makes in The Untouchables. Baseball is a team game: 25 men. But each of them takes one turn - by themself - to help the whole team. Then the next batter gets a chance. Because of the batting order, a team can't simply send its best hitter up every at-bat. You can't just give the ball to Jordan or Shaq (Pujols or Ortiz) every time. A team's best hitter will get 4-5 chances a game to help his team. That's it. You need a complete team to win.
5. Substitutions. Once a player is removed, he's done. You can't just sub in the best defenders when you have a lead. You can't take out Jeter for an inning because he's tired. Could you imagine the way baseball would be played if there were no substitution restrictions? It would be bedlam. Players don't get any breaks (outside of the DH) during the game. Even late inning defensive replacements are a gamble if the trailing team comes back. And substitutions play an ever bigger role in the NL.
6. No Clock. No running out the clock. It doesn't matter what inning and what score it is, you still need 27 outs to complete the game. There's no easy way to 'seal' a win. You still have to face every batter, and record every out.
7. History. When Japanese kamikaze pilots flew their planes into American ships, they would often yell 'Fuck Babe Ruth!' No other American sport has the history baseball does. Some of the most iconic figures in our culture are Ruth, Gehrig, Dimaggio, Mantle, Ripken, McGwire, Bonds, Aaron, Clemens, Jeter. It's goes all the way back to the 1830's. The 'Junior Circuit' (AL) had been going strong for over 45 years before the NBA ever started. The Yankees had already won 20 World Series before the first Super Bowl was ever played. I just love that feeling of history when I watch a game.
8. Summer. What better sport to exemplify the feeling of summer than baseball. The only summer sport we have. Warm weather, kids are out of school; remember the day games with your dad, drinking a soda, eating a hot dog? What's better than that?
9. Connection. This ain't football where the most ardent fans get to see a maximum of just 24 games (including the pre and post-season). Baseball is 3 hours a day, 6 days a week for 6 months. You get a minimum of 162 games. That's double basketball and hockey, and 10 times that of football. Not only do you get to see your 'guys' 162 times a season, but you actually feel close to them. They're not wearing masks to cover their faces (football, hockey), and you don't get that feeling of 'closeness' from other sports. And then when you add the fact that baseball plays 162 games, it's easy to understand where the connection comes from. When the season is over, it's like you not seeing your family for five months.
10. Home-field Advantage. Having the home team hit in the bottom of each inning assures that every team, every season (even Kansas City) will have its share of thrilling, bottom of the whatever, walk-off wins. It's nothing like football where you squib kick it or have the QB kneel down, or in basketball where you dribble out the clock or foul the opponent 10 times.

By the way, when is opening day?

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