Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Defending America’s Pastime

By Stephen Kerr

When people discover how much I love baseball, I sometimes get reactions like, "You watch baseball? Why? It's too slow and boring; there are way too many games. How can you stand it?"

I usually give them a simple answer: "I grew up with it," or, "it brings back memories of my dad and I playing ball in the backyard," or something similar. How do you describe the feeling you get when you hear the solid crack of a bat against a ball, and your favorite player hits a home run to win the game for your favorite team? How do you explain to them that this "boring" game is anything but, that there's often as much suspense watching two power pitchers duke it out as there is in a back-and-forth offensive slugfest? If these naysayers have never studied the history and traditions of the game, it's nearly impossible to get them jazzed about stories of great legends like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ty Cobb, and so many others who made baseball larger than life before many of us, including me, were even born.

I usually take the easy route with these discussions. But as this year's World Series began, and my son was bemoaning the fact he couldn't watch his favorite show on FOX because of "that baseball game," it got me to thinking maybe it's time to come to the defense of what used to be known as America's pastime, and why it still evokes the same Emotions in me now as it did when I first became a fan.

First, I love the game's unpredictability, especially during the postseason. How many of you predicted the Giants and Tigers would play in this year's Fall Classic? Yeah, that's what I thought; unless you're a fan of either team, not many. In the 2011 Series, most "experts" had the Texas Rangers easily dispatching the Cardinals. But St. Louis, after twice being within one strike of losing the Series in Game 6, got off the deck and won not only that game, but Game 7 to take the title. If you're a Minnesota Twins fan, you no doubt remember that beloved team who won the 1987 Fall Classic. (Heck, they even captured the hearts of non-baseball fans, who rooted for them to win).

Second, there are plenty of dramatic moments that fans still talk about years later. One of my favorite Fall Classic memories was Kirk Gibson's pinch-hit walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth in Game 1 of the 1988 Series, despite injuries to both legs. That gave the Dodgers a 5-4 win over Oakland, and the Series title in five games. I wasn't a fan of either team, but that inspiring moment will always stick with me. Boston Red Sox fans will always remember Bill Buckner's error that cost their team the Series in 1986, and Giants fans can still hear Russ Hodges screaming over and over, "The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!" as he described Bobby Thompson's 1951 home run to beat the Dodgers. I could go on and on, there are so many, but you get the picture.

Third, there's no clock. In baseball, you can be down 10-0 in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and the bases empty. But the game isn't over until the final out is recorded or the losing team comes from behind and wins. Time is almost indefinite, no matter what the score is or how slim the chances of getting back in the game.

Fourth, you don't have runs taken away by penalties. I like football and basketball as much as the next person, but I cringe every time a flag is thrown or a whistle blows after my team scores. Chances are, those hard-earned points they just got will be wiped away by a silly penalty or foul. Not so in baseball.

Finally, I love reading about baseball greats from another era. Every sport has a story to tell, and is full of historic moments and great players, but none excite me as much as baseball. I can get just as caught up in reading the life story of Babe Ruth or Mickey Mantle as I do a good suspense novel. Those legends, and the stories behind their lives, are a great history lesson in events that shaped our society, whether it's the Roaring Twenties or World War II. It reminds us of a time before there ever was an Internet, cable or satellite television, and multimillion-dollar salaries. Back then, baseball truly was "America's Pastime."

I'm not naïve. We live in a fast-paced world. We want constant excitement, hard-hitting, even violent competition. Football has now become America's favorite sport to watch. Like all sports, baseball has had its share of scandal, most notably the "steroid era." A player can't have a breakout season without the first thought being, "is he doping?"

But I'll always be a baseball fan first, and I say it with pride. Now that San Francisco has swept Detroit, and this year's World Series is over, I'll watch some good pro and college football and basketball. But I'm already counting down the days until spring training starts another season. Hurry back, baseball!

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