Tuesday, August 28, 2012

You don't have to be a lunatic to love baseball ...

... although neither does it particularly hurt.

As a kid I was effectively brainwashed (aka culturally conditioned) into loving baseball.
The basic message was: "Hey, you're an American kid. Either you play baseball or you end up robbing convenience stores. Any questions?"
"Yeah, what's a convenience store?"
"Okay, do you want to ask stupid questions and possibly spend your formative years behind bars, or do you want to play ball?"
So we played ball and, as advertised, it was a fairly effective way of sublimating and refocusing our naturally aggressive tendencies, mediating them into a socially approved form of adolescent energy expenditure. Perhaps more importantly, it began the process of teaching us how to cope with boredom.
Because, let's be honest, baseball is boring.   Or is it?  (more on this later)

Little League was the next logical step, wearing actual uniforms, playing on actual ball fields. I excelled at every aspect of the game ... except one.  Couldn't hit. Couldn't even buy one, and this was back in the days when bribing an opposing pitcher or even an umpire was still relatively affordable. Somewhere along the way I developed what turned out to be the highly unproductive habit of turning my head sharply to right just as the pitcher released the ball. Not sure why exactly, but I may have been laboring under the ludicrously false assumption that by not seeing the ball, there was less of a chance of being hit by it.

Note:  There is an extant law on New York's books making it illegal to throw a ball at someone's head for fun. Intent, apparently, is everything. Remove the concept of fun from the equation and you can throw fastballs at somebody's noggin with complete impunity.

High school baseball came next, at least for a day, just long enough to step into the batting cage and demonstrate my ability to put wood to cowhide covered sphere. Afterwards the coach took me aside and rather tactfully suggested baseball might not be my optimal choice for a school sport.
"But coach, I don't want to end up in jail!"
He uttered something about my swing being criminal enough to qualify, then recommended track and field.

Which reminds me of a guy I knew in college who, believing he was an impeccable speller, applied for a part-time job as a proofreader in a law firm. Part of the interview was a spelling test, 30 words, read out loud by this female interviewer, who it was pretty clear really didn't give a shit one way or the other. Spelled 27 of the words incorrectly (or, on the upside, got 3 right), prompting said interviewer to intimate that a career in legal proofreading was pretty much out of the question.
"But how are your math skills?" she inquired.
"Sure, go ahead, rub it in."
Okay, that wasn't some guy I knew, it was me. One more example of a deluded past of which, on balance, I'm fairly proud.

So anyway, baseball.  What's the appeal?  People watching a major league game for the first time - and by people I mostly mean foreigner types, who generally don't have a clue to begin with - are likely to comment that it doesn't look all that difficult. A group of men dressed in costumes stand around on a field, for the most part barely moving, while some guy with a stick tries to hit a smallish white ball, and then run in a highly predictable pattern, making sure to touch as many white cushions as possible.

Okay, first of all weird, what-planet-are-you-from-anyway guy, they're not called cushions!

Consider the average major league player standing in the batter's box attempting to get a hit off an average major league pitcher. Assume the pitcher has an average speed fastball of, say, 90 mph.
Such a pitch is traveling at 130 feet per second. The distance from pitcher to batter is approximately 66 feet. Hence the batter has approximately half a second to evaluate the pitch and decide whether or not to swing.
Just writing that forced my head to turn sharply to the right.

Note: The average life expectancy of a baseball during a game is 6. 3 pitches. 

What attracts me to baseball is that, unlike the other major American sports, it's not time-constrained; it is off the clock, under no pressure to adhere to a schedule, to accomplish some goal within a specified time frame. You can have a game on in the background, glance at it occasionally, perhaps take the dog for a walk, have a nap, discuss TV viewing options with your partner (i.e. Oh God, not baseball again!), without having to worry about what may or may not be happening. The length of any particular baseball game is indeterminate, the eventual outcome secondary to the out-of-time experience of just being in the game, either as spectator or player.

From a modernist perspective, espousing the point of view that the absence of constant, high-speed distraction within predetermined, preferably brief, pockets of time is existentially intolerable, baseball can certainly be construed as boring. The paradoxical insight that baseball - baseball as anti-modernist or, dare I say it, postmodernist sport - provides is that only when nothing appears to be happening does the story begin to get interesting.

So there it is. Baseball is the great, atypical, postmodern American pastime. Reason enough, I'd say, for a lunatic to love the game.  Batter up ...


1 comment:

  1. I love baseball and I LOVE this posting! Ya know what my favorite thing about the sport is? You can try as hard as you can when throwing the ball or swinging the bat. You're not impeded by rules governing your physical motion as in football, basketball, and hockey. Hey, I love those sports too. Just sayin'...