Saturday, April 07, 2007

Baseball's Back!

Yeah, I'm a fan of the grand ol' game. Always have been. I played it up through my mid-twenties when I found out that a slider that comes at you with the same speed you are used to seeing from a fastball is a very scary thing. Not because I was afraid of getting hit by one. But because I looked like a fool as I swung at them. Once opponents figure out you can't hit a certain pitch, you're done.

So now I indulge my baseball addiction as a fan. A fan of my local team, a fan of the game in general and a fan of my son. I coached his little league team last year, but with my new job that just isn't an easy option this year. So I'll stay an observer and try to restrain my competitive nature and let him enjoy the game without Dad screaming at him from the stands.

But at the downtown ballpark, I hope to be letting out a few screams. My team is the San Diego Padres. I've been a season ticket holder for ten years and before that I used to buy a chunk of my parent's tickets. Last year, my team won it's second consecutive division title, something that had never happened before. This year, our pitching is better and we've gotten younger. Are we better overall? Time will tell.

Baseball is different than the other sports. There are no gaudy winning percentages or records like 14-2 or 65-19. The very best teams still lose 40% of their least. If you are successful in one third of your attempts in baseball, you go to the Hall of Fame. In football or basketball, you do that and they talk to you about "life after sports" and suggest you buy a car dealership.

Baseball is about perseverance, patience and dealing with failure. It's a team game that depends on a series of individual competitions. It's a game where you have to be able to take a long view, not allowing momentary setbacks to affect you. In football, if you lose a game you dwell on it for a week. In baseball, there are 162 games in six months.

No time limits, and no play until someone wins, no matter how long it takes. And you always have a chance to come back. My team won in the bottom of the ninth tonight. The most storied franchise in the game had the best player pull them out of a hole earlier. They were one strike away from defeat and A-Rod hit a grand slam. See, you always have a chance to come back while the game is still being played. No garbage time, no such thing as an insurmountable lead. If you're down by five scores entering the last two minutes in football, you're done. It's over, but not so in baseball. Because an out is equivalent to two minutes, seeing as you have 27 of them to play with...a football game is sixty minutes. But I've been present to see the Padres score five times with only 1/27th of their allotted outs available.

Three-quarters of the teams don't make the playoffs in baseball, like basketball and hockey. Four teams per league, and two of them are done after a maximum of five games. No second season that lasts two and a half months. Half of the teams gone in less than a week, after 162 struggles.

Bart Giamatti said "The game is designed to break your heart." He was right, and that's what makes the successes so special. I love it.

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