You know I love music. For some reason that I fail to understand, there exists a subset of artistic people - whether musical or otherwise - that have some kind of strange aversion to sport in general, and really love to make their disdain known. Fear not, I'm not one of those people whose interests are so limited. I enjoy all sorts of different stuff, and some of that stuff, well, that includes many forms of sport. I happen to especially love baseball. I've written here about baseball before. No, really, I have. Last year, I ranked my favorite ballparks. (Click here to read.) I love going to games. I love watching games on television. I love reading about baseball. I love playing fantasy baseball. It's fair to say that I have a deeper emotional connection to baseball than any other sport. Why is that?
Part of that surely goes back to childhood. I remember swinging plastic bats at plastic balls thrown by my grandfather and my father. Playing catch with one's father is somewhat of a male American cliché, but it's cliché because it's true... I played catch with my dad for countless hours over many years. Baseball is a place where being left-handed is an advantage.
Consider this quote from the well-known 1989 motion picture Field of Dreams, said by a character played by James Earl Jones:
The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball.
America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It's been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time.
Now, I am completely uninterested in nostalgia as a tool of patriotism, and there is no part of me that yearns for past times when people who looked like me were publicly executed with impunity. Wait, that still happens, let me rephrase... there is no part of me that yeans for a past when the greatest baseball player of all time was not allowed to play in Major League Baseball. That said, despite how much the game has changed, the basic tenets remain. To quote another baseball film, "It's a simple game... You throw the ball, catch the ball, hit the ball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains." I find that simplicity to be beautiful.
Despite the big picture simplicity, if you look closely, baseball has a certain level of complexity and is filled with infinite possibilities. For example, there are nine (9!) ways that a batter can safely reach base. Not all of them involve actually hitting the ball. There are deep cat/mouse games between batters and pitchers. There are well-coordinated movements by the defenders for who backs up which base (I love watching catchers running down to back up first in their gear), for who the cut off man will be on a given play, whether a throw should even be cut in the first place, who covers second on a steal attempt, and the intricate dance of a run down play.
I don't quite remember what year it was when my parents decided to get cable, but I absolutely remember that TBS was one of the channels that we had. The gentleman who owned that television channel also owned a baseball team, and did plenty of cross promotion with these holdings. This meant that just about every evening, there was a baseball game on TV, and it was always the same team. I watched a lot of games. I became a supporter of this team. The broadcasters who I listened to night after night - Skip Caray, Ernie Johnson, Pete Van Wieren, Don Sutton - they became my friends. My favorite players were Murphy and Horner, Rafael Ramirez and Oberkfell and Hubbard... then Blauser and Andrés Thomas and Zane Smith... then Smoltz and Glavine and Avery and Gant and Justice and Pendleton. (As someone once said, at the end of the day, we support laundry.) I watched so many games, that as an elementary school kid, I memorized the disclaimer that would be read on the air each game. These days, I don't quite remember whether they would read it in the 3rd inning or the 4th inning, but I still remember every single word.
This telecast is authorized under broadcasting rights granted by the Atlanta National League Baseball Club and is intended solely for the entertainment of our audience. Any rebroadcast, retransmission, or other use of the pictures, descriptions, or accounts of this game without the express written consent of the Atlanta National League Baseball Club is prohibited.
The Atlanta National League Baseball Club won the World Series this week, on Tuesday 2nd November. They are champions. CHAMPIONS. The last time this happened was my senior year of high school. This made me happy, albeit briefly. I don't really do happy... but I freely admit that I am deeply emotionally connected to the Atlanta National League Baseball Club. When I was young, they were horrid. They lost 106 games in 1988. They very nearly lost 100 games again in 1989. I watched the games anyway. They unexpectedly won the pennant in 1991, going from last place to first place in a year, and lost a very exciting World Series in 7 Games to the Twins. (I still haven't forgiven Hrbek.) They were pretty good throughout all of the 90s, but only managed to win that one championship. That is a championship I will never forget, in part because their opposition was a team from Ohio, but I think I'll remember this one for longer.
Of course, part of that is recency bias. Part of it is how this team managed to win. Their best player blew out his knee halfway through the season. One of their other major contributors turned out to be a terrible human being and domestic abuser, and was away from the team for that reason. There were several other injuries. Of all the teams that made the playoffs in baseball this year, Atlanta was near-unanimously declared to be the worst of them. Strange things can happen in small sample sizes, however, and baseball is decidedly odd that way. Of course, you can never really know how all of these professionals are as people, but this group of players comes across as eminently likeable, and they never quit. I kind of like how the article I link to in the previous paragraph puts it:
Atlanta completed a mathematically improbable journey to Tuesday’s champagne bath. The NL East champs didn’t have a winning record until Aug. 6, and they had the lowest win total of any team to reach MLB’s postseason this year, including the Wild Card clubs. The Braves are just the eighth sub-90-win team to win a World Series in a non-shortened season.
Improbable. But the improbable happens fairly often in baseball, in ever-changing ways. That's probably another reason I love baseball so much.