The Grandest Game of All

Yesterday was opening day in all its glory. It went as opening days should, with an Orioles victory, a Yankees loss, homeruns by Bryce Harper and Mike Trout, a near no hitter, the Braves trading away everything but the Hank Aaron statue, and hope sprung eternal across the land. Opening day is that day when everyone is undefeated and we can all look forward to a miracle season. We aren’t all going to get it. Minnesota is not going to suddenly get great, Tampa will suffer Joe Madden karma and the Phillies are one god awful baseball team but, for at least one day. we all have hope.  It helps that everyone is crocked out of their minds having begun drinking at the bars near the ballpark sometime shortly after breakfast. Having had many a mid morning beer at Sliders or Pickles Pub in the shadows of Camden yards I can tell you that nothing reinforces baseball hopes, dreams and inflated expectations like a half dozen beers with your Egg McMuffin.

Baseball is a sign that at long last winter is past. We weren’t buried in a snow drift, the wolves did not get us, the dingos didn’t get our babies and the sun will shine again. Even in those cities where there was still snow on the ground and you had to walk to the stadium in ankle high slush that first pitch tells you that soon enough you will be in the stands with a deep red sunburn on your ankles and knees , cold beer in hand talking with your buddies about what a fucking idiot the manager is for not yanking the pitcher in the top of  the 6th. Winter, with all its dread icy bullshit, frozen door locks, slippery sidewalks, no school days with a pack of bored children reenacting Lord of the Flies in the living room, slick freeways along with toilet paper and milk shortages (personally when it snowed I always headed for the liquor and book stores. Was never a big fan of milk and am not convinced I shit more when it snows) is finally and gloriously fucking over.

Football may have claimed a larger audience. After all there is not much American like more than full on high speed violence with nearly naked girls dancing on the sidelines. I like football (and nearly naked girls) but for me the grand old game of them all will always be baseball. I can take or leave football most Sundays but baseball is damn near religion. In fact it is an important part of the NFC code and several commandments actually specifically deal with baseball. Had I handed down the law to Charlton Heston he would have come down off the mountain with a baseball, a John D.McDonald novel and a bottle of good bourbon.

In many ways baseball is the soundtrack of my life. Baseball on the background while cracking steamed blue crabs while swilling pitchers of cold beer is pretty much the definition of a Maryland summer. In the car, or in the office, or at the bar, if there was a game it was on the TV or the radio. I would choose bars based on which ones had the game on and which ones had shit simple things like hockey or the NBA on instead. Today with the advent of MLB-TV on the phone and computer I am sure my neighbors here in Florida have become accustomed to the soft glow and voices of the Orioles announce team as I watch the game at night on the lanai.

Baseball can be leisurely. You can do other things while watching/listening to a game. I have read countless books while taking in a game and written volumes with the game on. It can also be intense. If you sit up and watch closely all the positioning and strategy going into each and every pitch it can keep you riveted on the edge of your seat like a Randy Wayne White novel.

People who claim baseball is boring just aren’t aware that this is not just an athletic event. There is fierce mental battle going on down there on the field between managers, between pitchers and hitters as well as runners and position players.  I could put a team of freakishly athletic and strong football players on the field with a collective IQ of 12 and as long as they followed the simplest of directions they can win. A team of athletic dummies finishes last in baseball. You don’t have to just out play the other team you have to out think them to win consistently. Somewhat like chess players position players are trying to anticipate the next move so they can position themselves correctly and think through what they will have to do to react in any of a dozen scenarios should the ball be put into play. So many seemingly small yet intricate things can decide the course of the game and all require anticipation and execution at the highest levels.

If the Kentucky Derby is the most exciting 3 minutes in sports then the seconds between a runner turning around third and the right fielder cocking back to throw home is the most exciting few seconds in sport. A ninth inning bomb to seal an improbable comeback is not just exciting, its damn near delirious. A pitcher’s duel that has you up on the edge of your seat because every play and pitch is crucial to the outcome is one of the most intense moments in all of sport. The fact that baseball can be a leisurely intellectual sport does not make it boring except to the truly unenlightened.

It is a long season. Over the course of a long season you have to do a lot of things right most of the time to win. Just as in life even the very best will have bad games and make mistakes that cost the game. It is the ability to go back out the next day, gun down a guy at the plate and go 2 for 3 with a walk and a stolen base the next day that defines greatness. Having the courage to throw the same breaking ball you just left hanging for a three run bomb the very next inning to paint the corner is what separates a good pitcher from an also ran. Practice, perfect and execute is the hallmark of a good ball player. Recover and correct your mistakes is what makes a great ballplayer.

It is not 80 yard bombs and boobs but for my money day by day, pitch by pitch, baseball earns its place as the greatest game of them all.

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