Below is a 2700 word explanation of why I like baseball. If you don't wish to read because it's too long skip to the bullet points at the end for the short answers.
Growing up I was a small kid without any real athleticism. My parents didn’t put me into sports like soccer, basketball, or football because I never really showed any interest. I didn’t show interest because when we would play them at recess my "friends" would make fun of me because I didn’t catch the ball, or I didn’t make the basket. I did play catch with my dad (and mom) in the backyard, both with a football and a baseball.
Out of that I grew to like baseball. I played in the local Babe Ruth league where I played shortstop and pitcher. I could steal a base when I wanted, and I could hit well enough that I was a top of the order kid. I was good enough that my coaches wanted to put me on the all-star team from the time I was 9 (in the minors) through 12 (in the majors). I got upset when I didn’t make plays and I was always practicing in my backyard, either by myself against the garage wall or having my dad pitch and hit to me.
When I made it to high school I wasn’t one of the top players any more as, again, there were people with more skills and athleticism than me. I kept playing even though during my junior year I was on the JV team (playing every position but catcher). My senior year I didn’t start a single game and would only come in during blow-out wins. We were a pretty good team that made the playoffs and I was a part of that because I caught everyone’s bullpens and threw batting practice in the cage when I wasn’t hitting or in the outfield working on drills, but I didn’t get much game time.
I stopped playing baseball after high school because I went to Colorado School of Mines and tryouts were the second week of class. I had gone to the team meeting the week before and learned about the tryout proximity and decided that I should try to figure out where my classes were instead of trying to make a baseball team that was unlikely, especially considering how often I was given opportunities in high school.
Now I feel like I can catch a football or shoot a basketball at a recreational level and enjoy myself (I still can’t play soccer). I have played softball a couple times and enjoyed that because it was almost baseball. But it makes me wonder why I like baseball so much. What about the sport has grabbed my attention and won’t let go? Why do I still try to go to watch as many baseball games as I can? What kept me going to Coors Field enough that I met my wife there with some mutual friends? Why do I continue to read baseball news articles daily? These are questions I’ve been asking myself lately and I decided to come up with the many reasons I still enjoy baseball.
To begin with, baseball is a physical activity that is most often played outside during the warm months from April to October. Baseball is summer. While vacations and swimming are also associated with the summer the only major sport being played is baseball. At the lowest levels kids can go outside and play catch with friends, siblings, parents, strangers (not exactly recommended), or even the local brick wall (be careful of windows though). Hold on though, why does it have to be kids? I’ve gone out and played catch with my wife a couple times this year and it’s been great, although she says I throw too hard. Baseball doesn’t have to be strenuous or played at a high-level to enjoy as an activity.
But the simple summer game doesn’t have to be exclusive to playing catch. When I was growing up I would grab a tennis ball (softer so I couldn’t break anything) and got hit it in my backyard. If a tee is available it’s easy to practice hitting and improving. Maybe a friend will come over and pitch and then you can switch off. Swinging a bat at an inanimate object can be quite therapeutic. And chasing down the balls after they’ve been hit into a random field can be relaxing after the hitting workout. Playing baseball can be for everyone at any time (lunch break anyone?).
When I say baseball is for everyone to play I mean it. During a tournament in Garden City, Kansas the opposing pitcher only had one hand. He was able to grab a line drive and turn a double play on one of my teammates because he didn’t "freeze on the line drive." Jim Abbott, a major league pitcher with a no-hitter to his name, also only had one hand. There are Miracle Leagues for players with disabilities scattered around the country.
In addition, there are no real physical or size limitations to playing the game. Jose Altuve is listed as 5’ 6" and just won the American League MVP. Aaron Judge is the opposite at 6’ 7" and continues to be a force for the Yankees. On the pitching side Marcus Stroman (5" 8") can go up against Chris Young or Randy Johnson (6’ 10") and compete at the same level. Raimel Tapia can be as skinny as a baseball bat while CC Sabathia looks like he makes the ground rumble when he walks. These players are at the highest levels in baseball and kids can look at them and say, "If I work hard I can be there too." I have a friend with an 8-year-old son who tried playing basketball but feels he is too small for the sport, but he loves baseball and is currently playing fall ball for the first time. I haven’t had a chance to ask him why he likes baseball so much but I’m sure he’ll say, "Because it’s fun."
The actual game-play is the part that I’ve grown to appreciate over time. When I played it was fun to go out there and throw, hit, run, and slide around the field. It's pretty easy to learn for anybody at any level. If you can follow that a batter tries to hit a small white ball with a long rod-like object then runs to the designated white bag in the ground before the ball beats him there then you understand basic the premise of baseball. Sure, there is more to it than that because the ball can be caught in the air for an out (three outs per inning) or after reaching the "bag in the ground" the runner tries to get to the other three bags in the ground for a run to be scored and the team at the end of the game (9 innings) with the most runs wins, but being new it’s not difficult to pick up on (although it’s also not as easy as European futball).
Growing up I didn’t realize that I enjoyed the nuances of the game as much as I did, and those nuances continue to drag me in. In a team sport where one person cannot do it all themselves, especially in the AL where pitchers can’t hit home runs, baseball is unique. It's the only sport where the defense is the team with the ball. It’s a team sport with one-on-one battles between the pitcher and the hitter. Anyone, at any time, can do something that is rare or unexpected. A diving stop to the right followed by a long throw to get a runner a first base, an immaculate inning (9 pitches, 9 strikes, 3 outs), a walk-off home run, or even someone hitting for the cycle can happen on any given night in any ball park around the world. The unexpected can get a fan out of their seat or even keep them glued to it if they are for the other team or a tense moment is coming up.
There are games within the game. A team sport where individuals, a pitcher and hitter, compete one-on-one. The hitter is trying to get on base while the pitcher is trying to get the out. The pitcher and hitter are both anticipating the other’s move based on pitch sequencing and the individual strengths of the player. A pitcher might have a great fast ball but the hitter can hit it, so does the pitcher go to his weakness or stay with his strength to test the hitter’s strength. The hitter must work against the pitcher to know if the slider down-and-away he’s been missing all game is going to be the next pitch or if he’s going to be surprised inside with a fastball. The possibilities are endless. Once the ball is hit, there is even more going on.
There is a feeling of randomness before the ball is hit because it could go anywhere, but everything is synchronized after contact with players moving around the field in harmony to prevent runs from scoring. Everyone has a place to be, and I often try to watch the players moving instead of the ball or the runner to see what is being set up. Is the catcher running down the line to back-up a throw or does he have to stay home because a runner is on second and the play might be there? If there is a ground ball to third the second baseman moves toward second while the shortstop moves to cover third. But here’s the kicker – all of these moves have to be processed before the ball is hit.
I think this might be my favorite part of the game – THINKING. I’m an engineer who grew up playing baseball which has so many different scenarios and possible outcomes for any given plate appearance (7 ways to reach first). I love the possibilities the changes in direction and the unknowns. A player has to know each possible outcome when the ball is hit and where to go. The outfielder has to know if the runner on second is fast and what the score is because if a ball is hit to the outfield he has to decide to throw it home to stop the run or to second to prevent the runner from moving up. A ground ball to third, with a runner on first, can lead to a double play, but if it’s slowly hit the fielder must decide to throw to first or try and force the play at second.
The game also lends itself nicely to analytics and mathematics, which as an engineer I enjoy. Originally there were calculations for batting average (hits per at-bat) and earned run average (runs given up per nine innings). The score keepers kept track of the number of hits, runs scored, and errors in a game. The fans at home wanted to know how their teams and favorite players were doing so these stats were posted in the morning or afternoon papers for people to read. It was such a great idea that fantasy baseball sprung up and is now bigger than ever.
Now, in the last 20 years, these stats are still around but they are used alongside other statistics to give a bigger overview of the game. The new statistics (WAR, wRC+, OPS+, FIP) are too hard to calculate for one person but many people look at these to determine how a player or team is doing. The evolution from three key statistics to many has kept me interested in baseball because arguments can be made for a player’s ability or worth based on any number of elements, and more than one perspective can be correct. The debates are endless and engaging and I’m constantly learning more about the different statistics, how others use them and, subsequently, how I can use them. The analytics portion of baseball is fascinating and evolving daily, even if the game itself doesn’t change very much on a year-to-year basis.
These statistics have also allowed us, as fans, to keep track of the history of the game, and what a history it is. Baseball began over 170 years ago in the north east (New York Knickerbockers 1845) and has evolved and changed into what we now have as a sport to be played by everyone. It started off with underhand pitches, strikes but no balls, no walks, no gloves, sticks for bats, and few defined rules. Now we have regular 98 mph fast balls, elbow and ankle guards, tapered bats, and instant replay. The statistics evolution brings today’s game, and the games of yesteryear, into comparison. The limited change in rules (lowering the mound height and eliminating the spit ball) over the last 120 years has allowed baseball to be constant. In how many other sports can you directly compare the best player in the game (Mike Trout) to arguably the best player ever (Babe Ruth)? As fans, and players, we are always comparing the current sport to that of the past. New records are being set, or events are happening that haven’t ever occurred: Ronald Acuna Jr. was the first NL player to hit lead-off home runs in both games of a double header.
Because baseball hasn’t changed much, and the statistics keep the game together through the years, generations of families can grow up and enjoy the game together. Grandfathers can talk about seeing Willie Mays or Ted Williams, mothers can say they got to see Barry Bonds and Greg Maddux, while today’s kids can be excited to see Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw. Each generation can share stories of who their favorite players were and how they compare to the next generation’s favorite players.
Baseball is a family game and it’s easy for a family to get outside and go to a game. There are minor league stadiums all around the country (sorry Kansas, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Alaska, and Hawaii) where the future stars are working their way to the major leagues. These games tend to be cost effective and entertaining for everyone in the crowd. At the Major League level the games are little more expensive, but still nothing compared to the three other major sports leagues unless you plan on going to a Yankees game. The players are often accessible before the game for autographs and pictures, and minor league games you can meet most of the guys after the game because they have to walk through the crowd to get to the locker room. Outside of hockey baseball is the only sport where fans have an opportunity get game-used souvenirs just by being at the game, and almost anyone can get lucky on a given day.
So there we have it, the reasons I like baseball. If this was too long and you didn’t read (I don’t blame you) the cliff notes version is below in bullet point form:
• Team Sport
• One-on-One Matchups
• You can be completely yourself on the field – individuality
• Not strenuous and can be "just fun"
• Game play is generally easy to learn
• There are no size requirements or physical limitations
• Can be played by self or with few others
• Safe and little physical contact
• Random events
• Lots of thinking and anticipation
• Great analytics and statistical discussions
• Lots of nuances
• Rare occurrences can happen
• Expect the unexpected and extraordinary
• Family game
• Exceptional history
• Baseball cards!!! (not mentioned above)
Why do you like baseball today?
Editor's Note: This FanPost was originally posted on August 22, 2018