The Enigma Behind the Meaning of Baseball
What exactly does baseball mean to those of us that watch the sport? We read article after article about what it means to those that play the sport or manage the sport or even own a piece of the sport, but what does it mean to the fan? Why do some fall in love with the methodical pace of the game while others lose their minds in boredom? Why is the nuance of the game so special to the enjoyment of America’s greatest sport?
I have often tried to dissect what it is that draws me to the game. Why would I choose to brave the crowds, the cost and the traffic for a three to four hour event? I have no interest whatsoever in braving the same for the Kansas City Chiefs (regardless of how good or bad they may be.) But baseball? It has this rhythm to it that draws me in each game. It’s pace suits my need to get away from the day to day humdrum of corporate life with its “need an answer now” format.
Baseball has not one single “need an answer now” moment. (Some may dispute that but even those moments that seem to need an answer now are backed by lots and lots of thought.) It’s built for length in every single aspect of its existence. It is a season 162 games long bookended by spring training and the postseason that stretches from February to November every year. Every game during the season has a significant importance while, at the same time, no overarching impact on what occurs in the other 161 games. (Of course, ask several teams, including the Royals, if that 161st or 162nd game isn’t the most vital and you might get a different answer.)
Baseball is about time. Each pitch calculated between a pitcher and his catcher (and these days even the dugout gets involved.) Each at bat is equally calculated with hours of video and mounds of data about the pitcher sixty feet away. Every time the ball leaves the hand of a hard throwing player, millions of calculations take place amongst the players and coaches on the diamond. They watch. They listen. They think. They move. They react. Each pitch presents a mathematical equation that only the human mind can solve. The pitcher thinks should I throw the slider or the change up. The batter thinks about whether he will see a two seamer or a curveball. And based on how and when their thinking lines up, an explosion of activity takes place.
It’s this moment, when the mental processes along with hand signals and head nods of conference between a pitcher and a catcher are completed, as a ball is released, that brings the greatest point of enjoyment to the game for me. The unknown variables playing out to unknown outcomes. The pitch. The stance. The swing (or the lack of swing.) The movement by the catcher. The movement of the ball. The movement of the infielders. The hush of the stadium in that ever so brief moment. The snap of glove as the ball hits it … Or the crack of the bat as energy is unleashed on two forward moving objects.
This choreography can literally happen 300 times each and every nine inning game. When you add in the excitement of watching the fielding plays that result from these pitching interactions, you get a thinking game that intoxicates the mind.
Baseball is a sport that readily allows the average fan to second guess the so-called experts on the field of play. Those of us in the stands all think we know more than those in the dugout that participate as means of making a living. And that too is another factor that makes baseball such a fascinating sport. There is great joy in being an armchair manager, of wondering why that pitcher was used, that shift took place or that runner ran. Baseball further complicates this because often fans of the sport even find themselves wondering about the motivations of the opposing team. We sit and hypothesize about the significance of a pitching change or a shift or a throw in from the outfield. How will this impact our chance to win? It’s all up for discussion in the stadium from the comfort of our seat with a beverage in our hand.
Baseball is the great equalizer. It’s tendency to depend on even the slightest minutia in the course of a three hour game leaves each decision as a possible determining factor in the final outcome. (As an example, sending a runner on a single to right field because the third base coach notices the right fielder always throws in to second.) Something that seems so small can, in reality, become so big.
This is the beauty of the sport. It’s what brings the average, every day fan deep in to the sport. It’s why we watch. It’s why we enjoy. It’s why we brave a season 162 games long in which a great team still loses 70 or 80 games.
Sitting at a game with family and friends brings a bond that even today’s smartphone centric society can’t deny. The lulls, the anticipation, the second guessing, the excitement, the disappointment, the confusion, the hope … all these things, and more, bring us together as fans. They force conversation amongst those we know and those we don’t. A homerun brings high fives with people you’ve never met and probably never will again.
That’s what baseball is and means …. community … thought … enjoyment … and beauty.