The Greatest Game We Play
The greatest game ever played may seem like click-bait. Maybe so. However, I’m not writing to tell you about the greatest individual game. I’m writing to inform you that we live in an age where the greatest game is underappreciated. I’m writing to tell you that you baseball- not football or basketball- is the greatest game ever to be played.
When we’re young, becoming the star of the sports world is the ultimate goal for a lot of us. Some choose football, others basketball, and even some others want to be a star at sprinting. For me, it was baseball. I wanted to play in Ballparks all around the United States. I wanted to stand on the pristine fields of green grass, the watered down infield dirt, and under the shining lights from the heaven above. That was my dream.
Game seven of a World Series, down by one, two on base. I walked through this scenario numerous times in the front yard. I was the pitcher, hitter, and voice on the radio all in one. “And the pitch on its way. Taylor swings, a deep drive to left center, and it’s out of here! A home run, touch ’em all, the Cincinnati Reds are World Champions thanks to the bat of Daniel Taylor!” Man, that was the dream. And I’m sure many of you have had that moment race through your mind. Maybe it was the game-winning touchdown pass, a shot at the buzzer, or a goal to win the Stanley Cup. Maybe it was the home run, or maybe an excellent performance on the mound. We all had those moments.
Sports flow through our blood in the United States, much like the rest of the world. But unlike most countries, baseball has been our pastime for many years. Since it’s beginnings, it’s been America’s sport. Now, as baseball grows around the world, we’ve begun turning our backs on the great game. Football now feels more like the American game. Baseball is big in Latin America, Japan, and South Korea. But in the United States, baseball has been on the decline.
Ask any fan that was alive during the strike years and you’ll usually find the root of the problem. Most fans turned away from the sport after the strike of 1994. That is the most popular answer. Another answer frequented by baseball detractors, it’s too long and boring. On the surface, that may be true. Baseball has a certain time commitment with most games lasting at least two hours, and that’s during a pitcher’s duel. Commercials don’t help things; the games drag on for three or four hours most nights.
Football is usually a two or three-hour commitment, but it’s much more “exciting” with the monstrous tackles and unfathomable touchdowns. Soccer is timed at 90 minutes, only a few extra minutes for extra-time, so you have a good idea of what to expect. Basketball is fast paced and the same with hockey. But baseball isn’t timed- the only of the major sports.
Nine innings with both teams taking a turn on offense. No turnovers or shortened innings, three outs for both sides, and 27 outs for both teams over the course of the afternoon. 162 times a season we do this, and then we get the playoffs. Baseball begins in March and ends in October. Pitchers and catchers report in February, so the season is nine months long. It’s not a short nine months either, days off are a rarity. The All-Star break is the only time teams will have consecutive off days for the entire season.
All of this makes it seem like a slow crawl. In the NFL things happen fast; it’s like a 100-meter dash with only 16 games. One day a week your team plays. In the NBA you have consecutive off days several times in a week – not once a season. The type of season we see in Major League Baseball is truly in a league of its own.
Much of what makes baseball so great is that sentiment. The game truly is a league of its own. Nothing is near exciting and boring, short and long, slow and fast, or interesting as baseball. It’s special.
In baseball, you have one of the most simple goals in mind. Either, throw the ball past the batter on defense. Or hit the ball safely on offense. It’s pitch and hit. See the ball, hit the ball. Easy, right? However, it’s one of the most difficult things humanly possible. Both, pitching and hitting, test the ability of the human body. Baseball stretches the human mind and body as far as possible and tries not to break- and sometimes it does break, spectacularly.
A pitcher is doing something so rare that you can’t simply practice it. Most athletes have a physical gift of some form. But pitchers have something that’s not self-taught. A fastball that touches 95, 98, or even over 100 miles per hour is something that is unthinkable. How? To rubber band your arm and throw a pitch faster than you can legally drive is simply incredible.
What’s even more incredible? Hitting that pitch. In less than 4/10’s of a second you have to decide where the pitch is going, what type of pitch it is, and if you can hit it. Then you have to do it. Your brain is working through incredible speed, computing all of these things faster than the flash of a camera. And then you swing and it. Not only is that good enough, but you also need to place it somewhere on the field that the eight players in fair territory can’t get to it. Even better, you can put it in the stands at least the MLB minimum, 325 feet away for a home run.
The human brain and body can barely keep up. There are times when it’s almost physically impossible. Aroldis Chapman threw the fastest pitch ever recorded at 105.1 MPH. Estimates have Nolan Ryan throwing pitches at over 108. Those are speeds that are nearing the physical and mental limitations of the mind and body to even compute.
Baseball, simply put, is the peak of human performance. They are some of the most physically and mentally gifted humans on this earth.
Sure, the game may be slow, but look at pitch-by-pitch. Slow the game down a little more and just marvel at what is actually happening. Before every pitch, the catcher or dugout will give signals to align the defense up. That’s not random; each player has a certain profile. Where does he hit most often? Is there a pattern? If so, the defense will align themselves up in that manner creating some weird overloads at times.
Now that the defense is aligned, we have to take into account the runner on first. The shortstop and second basemen will look at each other and signal which has the throw should a steal attempt come in. The third base coach has already given signals to the batter and runner; they now know that a hit and run is on.
The catcher, the quarterback of most teams, is computing these things. He decides he wants a fastball outside of the zone, try to get a swing and miss if the hit and run are on so he could throw the runner out. If it’s not, it’s just a waste pitch. From there, the art of pitching is on full display. The pitcher winds and uncorks a ball thrown at 98 to a precise point high and outside. The runner breaks, the second basemen moves to cover the bag, the pitch is there . . . and then you do it again.
Every play is a complex computer problem when you break it down. On the surface, it’s just pitch and catch. See the ball, hit the ball. Simple. The same way now that it was 100 years ago. That’s the beauty of it all.
Diving catches are made routine by the fielders. Home runs that tower through the dark sky look like they’re shot out of cannons. Pitches that boom across the park seem normal. The six-four-three double play just gets us to the bathroom a little sooner. A bang-bang play isn’t really exciting. All of these things are the plays that make up a baseball game. Taken on the surface, they aren’t impressive. We see them all the time. But break down what makes them happen and you see the true beauty.
Baseball is a constant dance between being too wild and out of control, and sitting on the line of impossible. Every play tests the balance of physics. Batters will sometimes describe a tight fastball thrown at 100 as rising, which is physically impossible. However, greats like Hank Aaron have said that the physicists need to put a helmet on and see it for themselves. Optical illusions occur at those speeds. Pitchers can literally fool the human brain- not an easy task.
Baseball is also one of the few sports that isn’t over until the last pitch is thrown. In football, we can usually tell who will win the game five minutes before it’s over, most of the time it’s even sooner. Same with basketball. You can deflate the ball in basketball, dribbling and taking up as much time as allowed. In football, a kneel down will end the game; but before that, a good ground game can ice huge chunks of time. In hockey, you can skate around and lob the puck around to absorb a lot of the clock. Sure, it’s still competitive to a point, but not like baseball.
In baseball, you have to give the offense a chance to win it. It’s the only sport in which you’re not in control of the offense. You don’t have the ball, the defense does. It’s played backward to a certain extent. The pitcher cannot throw around every batter to run the clock out. He has to get three more outs. Your offense could rally at any point. That is where the excitement is.
When you get behind 3-0 in the first, you know it’s not over. Just recently, on June, 5th, the Cincinnati Reds took an early 5-0 lead on the Washington Nationals. The Nats would rally to score the next 10, 10-5. The Reds would come back to make it 10-9 in the ninth. With bases loaded, no outs, and the Reds staring at a surefire tie game, Dusty Baker would’ve loved to take a knee or hold the ball. But they had to come right at the Reds.
A first pitch pop out by Adam Duvall, one out. A three-pitch strikeout against pinch hitter Zack Cozart, two out. Ivan De Jesus Jr. would fly out to centerfielder Michael Taylor to finish the game. Staring down the barrel of a loaded gun, Jonathan Papelbon got the save for the Nationals. You can’t make that up.
The game of baseball is an art form that started in America and now spreads worldwide. It’s a sport that has grown into all sorts of countries. But in the United States, we’re told it’s on the way out. I choose to believe otherwise. Maybe it’s because I’m stubborn, truth be told, that’s probably true. But I believe the love for the game of baseball will come back. We just have to show fans what the game is really about. Make fans understand what they’re watching. We should marvel, not just watch, the game.
P.S. Start taking a scorecard or scorebook to the game. Be a part of the living, breathing game of baseball and it will take hold of you unlike any game can. It’s something amazing.