Baseball in All Forms
"Baseball is timeless," the back of a shirt I once owned read.
People would ask me why I was so into baseball, a game too slow to keep their interest. My responses, well-prepared, circled around the type of cheesy cliched lines that adorned popular t-shirts like mine. I jumped on response bandwagons.
In truth, looking back at those times, I knew I loved baseball, but I could never properly explain why. Putting your reasons in words was always difficult. This summer, my baseball experiences have been as prolific and eclectic as ever, and it's all starting to make sense to me. I'm starting to develop my own real answer.
Baseball isn't timeless. It isn't like math, a universal language the same in South Africa as it is in Australia, the same in downtown New York City as it is in rural Iowa. Baseball in these locales revolves around the same game, but I love it because it isn't.
Last fall, I was lucky enough to find a ticket to the first game of the World Series. A lifelong Cubs fan, I didn't go thinking the outcome would matter to me. But in U.S. Cellular, the atmosphere captured me in seconds. I remember getting goose bumps during the national anthem, looking around and realizing that I was in the midst of the luckiest moment of my life.
World Series baseball isn't the baseball they play in early August. More importantly, it isn't the same feeling from the stands. When Bobby Jenks entered Game 1, and particularly when he struck out Jeff Bagwell, I was hooked. I was as excited in that moment as I'd been when Mark Prior shut out the Braves in the playoffs a couple years earlier.
After a long winter break from baseball, I returned to the game in the spring, making an annual sojourn with my father to Arizona. We don't trek to Phoenix for the sun or for the golf, but instead fill our schedule with baseball, filling it as much as possible.
Spring Training baseball is a different beast as well. Managers throw strategy to the wind, more concerned with trying things to gauge their team. Superstars are trying to recapture their stroke, altering and tinkering until they find it. Others are playing in desperation, trying with everything they have to make a roster, make an extra 300k, make their pension. Boone Logan made the White Sox.
Only a peripheral college baseball fan, in May I went to my first College World Series regional, watching my preseason championship pick North Carolina host Winthrop, UNC-Wilmington and Maine. I saw scouts drool over Andrew Miller and analyze Daniel Bard, and family cheer for their son/brother/etc like you'll never hear at a Major League park.
As if I have to tell you, everything changes with an aluminum bat. I did see a 21-19 game, living up to the stereotype of the college game. But what I saw, what I loved about college baseball, was to see a game where mistakes are magnified. In a game where errors are much more commonplace than the Majors, college baseball almost always rewards the team that is well coached, plays good defense and pitches well. North Carolina, not so surprisingly, won with ease.
This year, I've seen a dozen minor league games, going from town to town trying to catch a glimpse of the players I have/will rank. Colby Rasmus and Andrew McCutchen. The A's high school trio. Justin Upton and Delmon Young. And more.
It's a surreal experience to go to a game ready to just watch one player. To see baseball with blinders on, watching a player as he runs the bases, watching the third baseman field it only with peripheral vision. Watching how a player reacts to a ball off the bat, not following the ball into a mitt. I struggle with this, but am improving, learning slowly how to properly scout a prospect.
For five games in the summer, I watched the national Team USA, playing against Taiwan and Japan. I saw trick pitching from the Asian teams, I saw scrappy players that went with pitches like few Americans can. I saw Pedro Alvarez, a future first rounder, hit one of the longest home runs I've seen in person. I broke down David Price's weird delivery, and heard the buzz of scouts when Daniel Moskos first took the mound.
This week, I spent two days at the East Coast Professional Baseball Showcase, an event designed by those in the game to watch the best prep prospects on the Atlantic coast. I struggled through 105-degree heat to watch batting practice after batting practice, to see right fielders practice throws to third base, and catchers try to show off their pop times.
Certainly, this experience was the most difficult of all, and it was this that made me realize why I love baseball. This wasn't a 3-strikes, 3-outs type game that we're taught, but a fraction of it. Scouts gained as much from watching a shortstop field grounders and throw to first than they did watch him play against competition. With bits and pieces, the smartest men in baseball could discern prospect from suspect.'
What do I love about baseball? I love two things ...
I love the desperation. A player in search of a ring, a fringe player trying to make the 25-man, a college player on the field for the last time, a prospect attempting to rise above his competiton, a player swinging and pitching for his country, a teenager trying to impress a scout. Baseball isn't the same in Game 1 as it is in a baseball showcase, but the desperation is.
More than anything, I love the fragments of the national pastime. A Michael Main throw from right field. A Julio Borbon triple. Delmon Young's first home run of the season. Daniel Bard's beautiful, easy delivery. Boone Logan's unique, strange one. Bobby Jenks fastball, gliding past Jeff Bagwell's swing. Each moment different than every other, but as beautiful as the one before it.