28 October 2011

Why I Love Baseball

Moments ago my favorite team lost the World Series for the second year in a row. Last year Rangers fans were all just so happy that the Rangers made it to the playoffs that we accepted our loss at our first World Series appearance in franchise history. We made history. That was enough. But losing for the second year in a row was a heart-breaker. We were one strike away. Twice. This time, the other team made history and we were on the losing end of more than one stat.

But come April it will be a new year, a fresh start, and a renewed chance to make history. In a sport of 162 regular season games, it may seem to some that the baseball season drags on and that each game doesn’t matter. Tell that to the St. Louis Cardinals. They won the wild card in the very last game of the season. Every win mattered for them. That one win won them the championship. The true mettle of each team is tried and proven with each game.

But baseball is more than just a series of games played through six months of the year. It’s a culture. When you go to a baseball game, you’re getting more than a game. You’re getting a world-class hot dog, a fireworks show, lasting memories, and a taste of America. It’s not just a game, it’s an experience. It’s the smell of beer, the cheesy messages across the big screen pressuring couples to kiss, the vendors’ calls, the sound of the bat hitting the ball. To rile up the fans you don’t get half-dressed women or ear-splitting music--you get an organ. Instead of a half-time show, you get a rendition of “God Bless America” or “Take Me out to the Ballgame.” Instead of cheerleaders, there’s the Wave.

In crucial games fans watch in uneasy anticipation from the moment the first pitch is thrown across home plate until the last out of the ninth inning, because in a game like baseball you never know when the game is going to change. A game is never over until the last out of the game. If you don’t believe me, just ask the the Cardinals. Each pitch and subsequent play has a specific strategy. It’s not just a bunch of guys standing around, aging and filling out. It’s nine innings (or more) of strategy and skill. Good players don’t burn out in a few years, they burn out in a few decades. The rookie becomes the mentor and ushers in a new generation to carry on the tradition.

Baseball is ruled by tradition, not instant replay. The umpire has final say. Yes, they get the call wrong sometimes, but that’s baseball. What the umpire says, goes. This tradition extends to those that came before. They aren’t just remembered; they’re revered, being hailed as the Greats. No player can compete with the memory of Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, or Mickey Mantle. (Please forgive the Yankee reference.)

I don’t know when I fell in love with baseball, but I think maybe I’ve loved it my whole life. It was sitting in the dugout waiting to get back on the field, bonding with my teammates, hoping that coach would put me back on third or catcher. It was the evening practices out in a neglected field. It was learning how to switch hit and watching the other team’s coach silently implode when suddenly I went lefty on him. It was my dad practicing with me in the backyard and then sharing a bag of peanuts with him when we went to watch the pros. It was watching the Royals and the Rangers lose season after season: and still showing up the next year in the hope that they would win. Loyalty runs deep in this game. Just look at the Cubs; their fans still believe in them.

So for the rest of my life, I will don my Rangers cap and hope patiently for them to make history and win their first World Series. I’ve waited this long. I can wait as long as it takes. Because baseball is so much more than just a game. It's a way of life.

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