Some ignorant sport fans accuse the game of baseball of being boring—of lacking the kinetic energy that is ever present in basketball and football. They are wrong. Compared to its professional sport counterparts, baseball is the soft-spoken older brother with a reserved personality and an inherent ethos. Fans marvel over professionals’ seemingly routine throws and effortless swings rather than other athletes’ extravagant trick plays or gaudy slam dunks that always seem to find the top of SportsCenter Top Ten’s.
Baseball is not an attention-seeking sport, and because of this, many uneducated observers conclude that it is boring. To them, the relief that comes when the opposing team’s player grounds into a double play in the top of the ninth with the score tied and the bases loaded cannot beat the exhilaration that results from a basketball shot chucked up from the half-court line and made at the buzzer. A fast player who hits a double but is able to extend it into a triple by taking into account the outfielder’s weak glove and lack of speed is just doing his job; the football player who sees a loose ball on the field and dives on it is the hero of the game.
The subdued, slower nature of baseball masks the fact that there is more going on in the first pitch of a ballgame than the entire length of a touchdown run, celebration included. When the batter approaches the plate, each defensive player shifts to where they believe the ball will be hit, something that cannot be determined until wind conditions, tendencies of the hitter, and pitch placements are considered. As the pitcher winds up, the hitter simultaneously asks himself various questions: Will he start me off with a curveball? A slider? Then the ball is released, and it lands across home plate into the catcher’s open glove. The umpire signals strike with his right hand, the radar gun clocks the fastball at 94 miles per hour, and the ballgame has officially started.
Two outs later, there is a runner on first base. Now, in addition to all of the previous questions, the defensive players also have to ask themselves: Will the runner attempt to steal second base? How are the field conditions: did it rain recently, or is the dirt easy to run on? But then, the pitcher suddenly pivots and throws the ball to the first baseman—this split second move has yet more layers of baseball etiquette, functioning as a way for the pitcher to show the runner that he is aware that he is there, and to think twice before trying to steal.
The count is full—three balls and two strikes. The pitcher licks his palm, analyzes the situation, and runs through all of the questions again. He heaves, and the ball makes an awkward bounce and escapes the catcher. Wild pitch. Instead of ending the inning, there are now two men on base. A new batter comes up, and a new defensive situation is created. This process continues until the final out. There are always numerous new questions to address, complex defensive and offensive situations to overcome. However, the difference between a win and a loss can come down to one faulty pitch or one powerful swing.
The fact that a baseball game is not timed speaks volumes about its sophistication. An unlimited number of at-bats can occur in one inning, meaning no leads are safe. On May 1, 1920, the Boston Braves ended the game with a once-in-a-lifetime draw (unless it’s the All Star Game) against the Brooklyn Dodgers after taking a 1-1 tie into the 26th inning: a pitching showdown. On the other hand, the Toronto Blue Jays hit ten homeruns in a single game against the Baltimore Orioles, winning 18-3 on September 14, 1987: an offensive showcase.
Those who say that baseball is too methodical and tedious are people who pay no attention to nuances in their regular lives. There are tremendous amounts of phenomena that fans can observe, from analyzing the logic of intentional walks and pinch runners to admiring the pure athleticism of a diving catch.
Baseball is the only sport that features a one-on-one match up, but it is still truly a team sport. After three outs are secured, the roles between the hitting and fielding teams reverse. Baseball exemplifies the American dream: everybody gets a chance to field multiple aspects of the game. If your defense is subpar, maybe you’re a great hitter. If your hitting is below average, maybe you can pinch-run in pressure-packed late inning situations. If you can’t pinch-run, maybe you’re a superb batboy. The exceptions that baseball makes to athletic ability drives home the fact that it is a team sport that focuses on individual talents.
A single Albert Pujols-caliber player is unable to singlehandedly bring his team to the World Series—he improves the team’s marketability, but he needs his teammates to reach greatness. A star slugger hitting in the middle of the lineup adds dimension to the roster, but does not determine the outcome of the game. The X-factor that a single player a la LeBron James, brings to a basketball team does not exist in baseball; there are too many pieces involved for one single person to carry either the success or failure of the team on his shoulders.
The intricacy and depth of baseball is not for the casual sports fan that only cares for in-your-face play and high drama. It is the only sport that can have its fans sit through nine straight innings of sportsmanlike conduct and minimal violence with a scorecard in hand, among many tasks, specifying whether the batter struck out looking or swinging, whether the ball that got by the catcher was a wild pitch or passed ball. Fans of America’s pastime are the perfect representation of the true sports fan: appreciative of the culture attentive to the mechanics, and aware of the idiosyncrasies of the game they love.