They don’t understand. They say “it’s just a game.” They say “it’s boring.” They don’t get it. They comprehend what baseball means to so many people. They cannot appreciate the stress of an extra inning playoff game. They’ve never put their head in their hands as their team’s season approached an unsuccessful conclusion . . . another year without a World Series championship. They’ve never shed a tear over a heartbreaking loss. They just don’t understand the greatest sport around.
Baseball has been around for over a hundred years, spanning generations, and has always provided Americans with an escape from the often troubled reality of their lives. After the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001, baseball was the single most unifying force in New York City and the country. From Mike Piazza’s amazing home run in the Mets’ first game back, to George W. Bush’s thumbs-up first pitch during the World Series, baseball brought together a city that had suffered the worst setback in American history. Indeed, it was out of the misery of 9/11 that the defending 3-time champion Yankees (the team everyone loves to hate) became a nationwide depiction of hope. That’s what baseball is. Baseball brings people together at times when it is the last thing people should be thinking about. Baseball is a unifying distraction.
I’ve been writing for Diamond Digest for just over six months now. My whole life, outside of my immediate family members, baseball has always been considered the “boring” sport. But the great writers at this site are another reason why baseball is so amazing – the community it builds. The community of “Mike Trout is so damn good.” The community of “analytics are the future.” The community of “damn analytics, use your eyes.” There’s a place for everyone.
It’s not just the community of baseball, but the allegiance to your personal team. Going to a Yankee game, and being a part of the roll call. Yelling “Oh!” like a good New Yorker when the opposing pitcher attempts to brush Aaron Judge off the plate. Hugging random people around you after a walk-off win. Your fanhood is built into you at birth. No matter how much you want to just move on, you can’t. That’s what they don’t get. That’s why when they tell you it’s “just a game”, you scoff at them. Yeah, it’s just a game. No, you’re not being paid. But it’s a part of who you are.
I am 16 years old. I’m “just a kid,” so people tell me that I’m unable to put my favorite team losing a children’s game in perspective. They’re right. When the Yankees lose, it’s not the end of the world. During the regular season, they play again tomorrow. But all diehard fans understand how torturous those hours after your team loses can be. They just don’t get how hard it is to experience losing, even when you have “nothing riding on it.” What separates baseball from other sports, is you have to sit through 162 games, so your team will, even in a historic season, lose over 50 games. Most years, they’ll lose around 70. The dedication needed as a fan, to drop your head in defeat time and time again, yet still pick it up the next day, is unbelievable. But that losing, makes the winning so much sweeter.
The stereotype around Yankee fans is we always talk about our 27 World Series championships. While I gotta admit, 27 is a very nice number, you won’t usually see me spreading it around. Why? Because I’ve only won one, 2009. The worst part, is I was six years-old, so I barely remember the sole championship in my lifetime. They entered this year with high expectations, yet they are struggling to meet them right now. That’s just plain heartbreaking for me. While they do have a bright future, this was their year. They built an amazing team, but injuries keep piling up and the healthy guys are struggling. Now, a lot of you are loving my suffering, with the Yankees being the most hated team in baseball, but all I know is that, no matter how crappy the losing feels, seeing your team hoist the World Series trophy makes it all better.
That’s what baseball is. It’s a children’s game that causes adults to weep. It’s a sport that you won’t understand unless you’ve been around it since birth. There’s something so beautiful about it. The swiftness of a 4-6-3 double play. The explosive crack of the barrel connecting perfectly with the lightning fast pitch. The cheers and groans from thousand of fans as they watch a ball fall just short of the wall, into the outfielder’s mitt. But it is more than game’s big moments, it the subtlety. A pitcher holding the set for an extra two seconds to throw off a leading base runner’s timing. The 1-2 fastball off the plate inside that you know is going to set up the offspeed pitch low and away. Second-guessing Grady Little as he stubbornly leaves the mound without Pedro Martinez by his side in the eighth inning of Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS, permitting the Yankees to keep the Curse of the Bambino alive for just one more year.
It’s not just the beautiful game, but the adapting strategy around it that makes it so great. The game has changed over the years. As analytics became wide spread, baseball teams took advantage of it. Now, teams have built squads based almost solely off of analytics. They play their way into the strategy as well. Managers biggest worries used to be whether to keep a pitcher in a game or bring in a pinch hitter. Now, they still need to focus on that, but there are so many other factors. Should they shift the infield? Is that player really bad, or is it just bad luck? Okay, third time around, do they pull their starter? Analytics have opened a new way to look at the sport, that other sports haven’t caught up with.
Baseball: the most boring, stressful, exhausting, beautiful damn game there is.