Baseball is the greatest sport in the world. It’s so obvious that I can’t believe I’m even bothering to state it. I’m not a guy who likes traditional sports, generally speaking. I’ve loved Formula One racing since childhood and World Rally Championship racing as an adult, and in recent years I have greatly enjoyed going to Winterhawks hockey games, but I’m not really what I consider a sports fan like some of my friends and relatives are. Baseball is a wonderful exception.
Football? No thanks. I’ve tried to like it for the sake of conversations with friends and family, but I just can’t. I am completely apathetic towards it. It’s a mindless sport, full of people bashing their own brains out. Basketball? I was into the Sacramento Kings in the day, but that turned out to be a temporary thing. Basketball, professional or otherwise, has no staying power for me.
Baseball, on the other hand, is forever. It’s a team sport, but possesses the best one-on-one competition in all of sportsdom. I was fortunate enough to be able to watch Greg Maddux in his prime, using guile, command, and that crazy late movement on his fastball to dominate hitters like no other non-power pitcher I can think of. Maddux was a genius. He studied hitters, he predicted what would happen if he threw a particular pitch to a specific hitter at a given point in a game. He’d set people up by letting them hit one off him and then taking advantage of the same hitter in a game later in the season, or in a future season, to get them out when he really needed it. His body may have been remarkably durable for such a non-athletic looking man, but it was really his brain doing the hard work.
And what about great hitters, testing the pitcher and refusing to go down, fouling off ball after ball to stay alive until they get one they can hit, both winning the duel with the guy on the mound in the at-bat result, and driving up his pitch count and shortening his game in the process? There is no greater and more engaging struggle in sports than the one that takes place between the guy swinging the bat and the guy toeing the rubber on the mound. Tony Gwynn striking out only five times in 366 at-bats against Smoltz, Maddux, Schilling, Martinez, and Glavine – it’s an insane statistic. No other sport has the same kind of lifelong contest within a contest resulting in such legendary performances.
I admit (with some shame given the season that just ended for them) that the Atlanta Braves are the team I follow and like the most. That goes back to Greg Maddux again, and his move from the Cubs to the Braves in 1993, as well as the ease of following their games on TV for many years. I’m also an inconsistent follower of the San Francisco Giants, and occasionally the Seattle Mariners (what can I say, I live closer to them than any other mlb team and my dad talks about them once in awhile). I’m kind of a fan of baseball itself more than a hardcore lunatic for any one team. I started watching baseball as a kid in Japan and didn’t get into it in the US until after college. I don’t have deep allegiances to any one major league team going back into my childhood like a lot of American baseball fans do. Neither have I ever been a person to really root for the local team just because they’re there.
The Yomiuri Giants in the late 70’s and early 80’s were my team. Names like Egawa, Nishimoto, Sadaharu Oh, and Koji Yamamoto were the baseball names I knew as a boy. Japanese baseball is (or was) the same as and yet very different from its American counterpart, and for awhile after returning to the States, American baseball felt… well, foreign to me.1 But in truth, baseball is seemingly universal. It’s the all-American game, but it’s also everyone’s game.
One knock on baseball I hear all the time is the length of the games and how boring they are. It’s true that games can last awhile, and I don’t always get to watch one in its entirety. But it is the best sport to go watch in person for precisely that reason. A baseball game in person can either be a leisurely, relaxed way to spend the day, or it can be exciting and epic and last long enough to make the contest worth something. There’s always time for something unexpected to happen. Unless you’re the Braves this season, that is, and then there’s never enough time.
I’m not a stat head. I don’t know all the players in the league. I have a vague idea of how most of the teams are doing and some of their rosters. I’ll never watch the majority of games during the season because of twelve hour workdays and lack of time or desire to watch a full nine innings of baseball by the time I do get home. But baseball is always going to be the one sport that for me is just fun without qualification. Even if my favorite team or specific favorite players are failing me, baseball itself is always good. There are always outstanding players, great plays, and tremendous moments of drama to enjoy.
It’s always been that way with baseball. And it always will be.
- By the way, if you understand Japanese, this video I came across while looking at Egawa clips on YouTube contains a pretty hilarious moment. At about 1:15 into it, one announcer is commenting about how no gaijin (foreigners) have hit homers off Egawa. The second guy immediately declares that it’s because all the gaijin who can swing the bat with any speed are all still in America. Classic. ↩