Monday, February 11, 2008

Baseball Girl

I am a baseball girl. I love it. I dream about it. I cry when the season ends. I count down the days to opening day. I even ... wait for it ... watch it on TV.

I KNOW! I can hear you. "It's boring!" "I can go to games but I could NEVER watch it on TV." "There's no action." "I like basketball." "I live in Italy and zer ees no sport but FUT-bol!" I KNOW, I KNOW, I KNOW. But baseball I love you anyway.

As we (meaning me) count down the days to pitchers and catchers reporting to camp (Valentine's Day--can we say coincidence?!) I feel it's important to pledge my love to the greatest sport of all time.

And here they are, the top nine reasons that I love baseball (and yes, I can think of ten, but there are nine innings in baseball ... unless you count the game that went 20 innings in Seattle that I stayed up until 1 a.m. listening to on the radio)

1) It's a Classic - I don't remember much of high school, but I do remember when one of my high school english teachers was asked the question "why do we study the classics?" His response? "We study the classics because they do not go away, the generations will not let them go away. The classics do not die." I'm sure I was probably thinking something along the lines of: "Wow, Vanilla Ice must be a classic because 'Ice Ice Baby' will be listened to for generations! That's rad." The last thing on my mind was baseball. But now I understand. Baseball was played on neighborhood streets 200 years ago and is still played on streets today. It can take a beating, but the generations have not let baseball go.

2) Pitching - I know it doesn't look like much. Guy on the pitcher's mound throws a ball, guy at home plate tries to hit it. End of story, right? Wrong. I learned this when the Padres were in the 1998 World Series. EVERYTHING hangs on one pitch. The game can change with ONE pitch. Good pitchers can make a ball fly past a batter at 98 miles per hour, the next pitch they can slow them down to the mid 80's. The balls can come inside, just kiss the plate on the outside, they can bomb them in low or come in high. It's a miracle anyone ever hits one. Most of the time they don't. That's where stats come in.

3) Statistics - I hate math but I love baseball stats. There are statistics for EVERYTHING--match ups between pitchers and hitters, leftys vs. rightys, home games vs. away games, and that's not even the tip of the iceberg. I love the thought of guys compiling statistics that will be around long after any of us are here. 50 or 60 years from now people will be looking at Tony Gwynn's stats and seeing if they can beat them. It's a way to compare the game over the ages. A way to compare A-Rod to Babe Ruth or Barry Bonds to Babe Ruth or Barbara Walters to Babe Ruth ... you see what I mean?

4) Stadiums - Do you notice that any movie that's shot in Boston or New York inevitably has a scene of the city from the air? You don't have to look closely to see Fenway Park or Yankee Stadium--they're lit up like Fourth of July fireworks. Stadiums are beautiful, set like jewels in the concrete jungles and that's what baseball calls home. Baseball is a game played throughout the summer and I dare you to not get into it--sit out in the Sunday afternoon sun, gorgeous field in front of you, ice cold beer in one hand and the energy of the crowd buzzing around you. Summer wouldn't be summer without baseball, baseball wouldn't be baseball without stadiums.

5) Failure - This is a game where you fail most of the time. A good hitter only hits the ball 3 out of 10 times. But that doesn't keep the guys from stepping up to the plate. The season is brutal, over 160 games, it's a given you're not going to win them all but these guys still come to the field every day playing as if they can. Kind of like me trying to catch the MAX every day.

6) Head - Yes, I'm sure the players get a lot of it (just making sure you're still paying attention!) but this is a sport that you've got to keep your mind out of (and yes, English teacher, that's improper use of grammar). You know that phrase "keep your head in the game?" Yeah, that didn't come from baseball. "Keep your eye on the ball" did. But, I digress. You can analyze pitchers or hitters, plays and defense, but once you get on the field you've got to play, shut your mind off and just play. A players greatest slump can come from when he's over thinking. Kind of like us ladies who wonder if "he's" going to call after a date (which I've NEVER done, by the way).

7) Loyalty - Doubt fans loyalty? Ask anyone in New York over the age of 55 about the Dodgers leaving Brooklyn. Walter O'Malley is still one of the most hated men in baseball. The Dodgers moved to L.A. in 1958, 50 years ago! See, New York fans were nuts even then (I say that with all due respect of course). Side Note: If you want to read one of my favorite books of all time, read Wait Till Next Year by Doris Kearns Goodwin, she's a baseball girl too.

8) Stories - Like the classics, baseball is full of amazing stories--both fictional and non-fictional. Men like Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson Roberto Clemente, Ted Williams. Books like The Natural or movies like Field of Dreams. The reason? Baseball is a perfect metaphor for life--you start off at home, fail miserably until you get one of your few shots, run the bases until you finally score. But the only way you score? By coming home again and bringing your teammates along with you.

9) Magic - Ask a Red Sox fan about how they felt when the Red Sox won the World Series, anyone who was watching (regardless of their thoughts of the man) when Barry Bonds hit that historic home run, all of those Brooklyn fans who finally saw the Dogers win the World Series in Ebbets Field, any pitcher, spectator or player who was part of a perfect game. Ask the writers of literature centered around baseball, announcers who call each game or even your local newspaper reporter and they'll all have a story of "that one time when ..." when it seems like there is no way someone can make that shot, or win that game, or sweep that team, when it all looks dark and like you're going to have to pack it up and go home. But then, in that moment, in that split second, that one pitch or hit or strike, magic happens, preparation has met opportunity and it's as if every single molecule in the earth pushes together to get that ball over the wall, or push the runner across the bag faster than he can be tagged--that moment when it all comes together just like you want it to and in that moment, it affirms that what we want can happen and you can't wait to step up to the plate and make it happen again.