Monday, March 5, 2012

The Beauty of Baseball

Tonight my youngest son will begin another season of Little League baseball.  He and his older brother have played this game for many years and I have had the pleasure of coaching them during this time. 

While video games, cell phones, facebooking, skateboards and seemingly a million other things now dominate the time and energy of America's youth, one constant remains that, in part,  makes America great.  That is the game of baseball.

Think about it for a moment.  Baseball is the only sport where there is no clock.  In football, hockey, basketball, soccer and other sports, one team can get a lead and "run out the the clock" on the other team.  In baseball you always get your last chance at bat, no matter the score.  If you keep scoring the game can go on and on until you can no longer push across any more runs.  How is that for "fairness"?

Speaking of fairness - look at baseball players.  Name another sport were such a wide disparity in height, weight, shape and size, speed and agility takes place?  In baseball you can be 6'10" and skinny as a stick (see Randy Johnson) or 5'4" and stocky (see Freddy Patek).  You can be shaped like a pear (Rick Reuschel) or shaped like a Greek statue (see Barry Bo......o.k., not him but there are many others).  You can be really fast (Vince Coleman) or be timed in the 60-yard dash with a sundial (see pitchers and catchers).    The point is, baseball, more than any other sport, rewards skill rather than athletic ability. 

You want proof?  Michael Jordan might be one of the greatest athletes in the history of the world.  He was horrible at baseball!  He could not use his vertical leap or quickness to overcome the fact that he could not hit a curve ball.

More proof?  Suppose an NFL quarterback completed only 30% of his passes. Released.  Suppose an NBA guard made only 30% of his field goal attempts.  Gone.  In baseball, if you get a hit three out of every ten times at bat, you are first called great then you are called to go to Cooperstown.    Think of it  - 70% of the time you fail and you are a star.  Name another sport where you can fail that much and be a legend.   That is because of the skill it takes to use a round bat and hit a round ball squarely past nine defensive players after the ball has been thrown by someone who knows where it is going, how it might drop or slide or dance from only 60 feet, 6 inches away (and only 46 feet in Little League).

Baseball is also the only game where the defense starts the play with the ball.  Baseball has provided some of the greatest names in the history of sports - see Urban Shocker, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Babe Ruth, "Cool Papa" Bell, Wee Willie Keeler, Pete Rose (send me your favorites) and some of the best sports movies (Field of Dreams, The Rookie, Pride of the Yankees).  Moreover, baseball has given us some of the greatest speeches of all time.  See Lou Gehrig on July 4, 1939 or Ryne Sandberg's Hall of Fame speech.  These and other classics are indicative of the type of people who make up this game.

Baseball is also the most fan friendly game.  I will not take my sons to an NFL game until they are old enough to defend their lives from other fans in the stands.  I took them to their first NBA game last Thursday in Orlando and the language was so bad I had to spend the night either talking to other people about knocking it off or listening for the latest potty-mouth who was going to begin talking like a sailor. 

At a baseball game you usually find people (except for Yankee or Dodger Stadium where the fans are not people) who are pretty relaxed, civil and interested in the game rather than seeing how many beers they can drink in 12 minutes.

Finally, baseball teaches humility.  Because it is so hard to learn and so hard to get good at and so hard to stay good at, kids learn pretty early that you have to humble yourself in the face of setbacks, pull yourself together and move on with greater effort.  That is what life is like too, which is why I am glad my sons keep playing this game.  Some day when their careers are over they will find that baseball has prepared them to be better workers, dads and men because of the character-building nature of the game.

Good luck tonight, son...

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