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In defense of baseball

Andy Ziccarelli | Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Spring in the Midwest is exciting. The snow has finally melted (we think), the temperature has warmed up to bearable temperatures and the sun shines for more than 10 minutes per month. To me, though, the coming of spring has meant only one thing for as long as I can remember: the arrival of baseball season.

Now, some don’t share my enthusiasm. I have heard a lot of negative things said about the game of baseball, just within the past few weeks. Some of my favorites include calling it “the most boring game on the planet,” “painful to watch” and that “you need to be drunk to be able to enjoy it.” The best, though, was the person that I overheard say that baseball is “three minutes of action packed into three hours.” It was kind of funny. It is also completely and totally wrong. Somewhere along the line, baseball developed a reputation for being an unexciting game. Quite the contrary, I would even make the claim that baseball is maybe the most interesting and exciting sport played. I’ll wait for you to stop laughing before I explain.

What makes baseball so entertaining isn’t necessarily the physical aspect, though it certainly is important. The mental aspect and the strategy involved in good baseball is what sets it apart from every other game that is played in the world. My dad always told me that baseball is “a thinking man’s game,” and he couldn’t be more right. The game changes on literally every single pitch. For example, if a pitcher throws a ball on a 1-1 count, he has just dug himself into a hole and likely has to come with a fastball that he knows he can throw for a strike on the next pitch.

The hitter knows this too, though, and can be ready for it. However, if the same pitch is moved just a few inches and crosses the plate in the strike zone, then now the pitcher has two strikes on the batter and can afford to throw just about any pitch in his repertoire to try to fool him. The pitcher and hitter both must take into account what type of pitches the pitcher can throw, what pitch he tends to throw in certain situations, what locations and types of pitches the batter likes to hit, what pitch the pitcher threw in a similar situation in the past (and if the batter will be expecting the same thing), among other concerns. So does the pitcher go with the fastball knowing that the batter is expecting it, or does he try and fool him with the curveball, which is harder to control? Where do the fielders position themselves and where are they going to the ball if it is hit to them? Does the manager look to the bench to try and create a more favorable matchup? Each pitch in baseball creates a new dilemma. No two situations are ever the same. So, while you look at baseball and see a game that is boring and always looks the same, I see a game that provides me with something that I have never seen before on a nightly basis.

Now, baseball is not just a mental exercise. Otherwise, it would be as entertaining as watching chess. The physical aspect can spoil even the best of strategies if a player isn’t careful. A pitcher can have the perfect pitch called for a certain situation, but if he leaves it hanging over the middle of the plate instead of on the corner, he might see it sail over the wall for a home run. Likewise, a hitter can know exactly what pitch is coming, but if his swing is only a few hundredths of a second late or early, he will come up with nothing but air.

Some people say that there is not enough action and excitement in baseball to keep them interested, and to a point, I understand where those people are coming from. There can be stretches of games that consist of nothing but strikeouts and groundouts for innings at a time. Scoring is scarce. But there are few things that are more majestic and pure than seeing a hitter square up a pitch and drive it for what seems like minutes into the night sky, and then watching it clear the fence for a home run. Plus, because of the pace of the game, there is a lot of tension that is built up in the late innings of a close game. Anticipation grows with each pitch of a critical at-bat. Then, in an instant, whether the outcome is a clutch base hit or a huge strikeout, all of the tension that has been built up in the stadium is released all at once in the form of uncontrolled excitement, or in many cases, extreme frustration. The nature of the game acts like an emotional amplifier for everyone involved, and it creates unforgettable moments, both good and bad.

Football may have overtaken baseball as America’s most popular sport, but baseball will always remain our national pastime. There is a deeply rooted, almost religious, bond between the game and this country. It has produced heroes and legends for generations and has created a tradition that I, for one, am proud to be a part of.


Andy Ziccarelli hates word limits because he could write about baseball for pages. He is a junior majoring in civil engineering and can be reached at aziccare@nd.edu
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not
necessarily those of The Observer.