What Other Game? – Thoughts on Opening Day 2015

Opening day of baseball. It’s an important rite in my life and has been since I was young boy. It’s the quintessential American way to finally put winter to rest – regardless of the actual weather.

I’ve loved baseball ever since, as a nine-year-old boy, I started listening to the Pirates broadcasts of Milo Hamilton and Lanny Frattare. Hamilton didn’t last long in Pittsburgh but Frattare managed to broadcast Pirates games for thirty-three years.

There’s something uniquely American about baseball. Much of the world doesn’t understand it, and, living overseas before the Internet, I was cut off from the game for many long stretches in my life. But every chance that I had to get a hold of an American newspaper, I would check the standings and, of course, the box scores. I do love my statistics.

In this day and age, living overseas and watching Major League Baseball is not difficult task. A quick MLB subscription and I can watch every out of market game (which in Malaysia is all of them) live or on archive. It’s quite amazing.

I especially love when I have days off. The game will start at 7 AM my time. I can eat breakfast while watching and let my morning slowly take shape. By 10, the game is done and I have the entire day still ahead of me. On work days, well, at least I still have the archive feature.

Baseball is the most unique and best game ever created. It’s remarkable, actually. It’s a throwback, a lazy afternoon, a chat with neighbors, a moment of boredom leading to a minute of euphoria. It’s unlike any other game. How you ask? I’ll answer with a series of questions of my own.

What other game has such a uniquely shaped field? The perfect diamond of the infield, and the green, fanning grass of the outfield which can end at any number of distinct and creative fence outlines. No standardization here.

What other game is played when the defense has the ball?

What other game is an individual struggle in the midst of a team sport? I had a former boss who said it perfectly about baseball: it enables kids (and adults) the fertile moment in the spotlight – each better gets his individual turn to shine in success or have to deal with the outcome of defeat. Although individual success on the field is no assurance of victory because it’s a team sport. Someone has said that if baseball had been invented by the ancient Athenians, then the gods of Olympus would have settled their scores with a rousing pitcher-batter duel.

What other game allows natural breaks to ponder and discuss strategy or life?

What other game has been so uniquely intertwined in the fabric of America?

What other game can boast such a heady list of writers who have become the game’s ambassadors?

What other game can make me so excited for spring?


It’s back!

Play ball!

(I’ll see you in November.)


The Greatest Game Ever Invented in the Words of Ken Burns

In 1994, Ken Burns’ iconic nod to the nation’s pastime, the gargantuan 18 hour epic, “Baseball” aired on PBS for the first time. I had just arrived in Vietnam at the time and so I clearly missed it – the highest rated PBS show of all time. What is it about baseball that brings back so much nostalgia? It’s because the history of baseball parallels the history of America in remarkable ways. Eventually, I was able to watch the entire series on a friend’s VHS, and, since then, have purchased my own DVD copy of it. The episode on Jackie Robinson is required watching in my US History class.

Many complain that baseball is too slow. I contend that life is too fast, and that baseball perfectly compliments an evening of small talk, revelry, and excitement. The minutia of baseball is incredible – the individual performances – the nuances – the unpredictability – the boredom – the excitement – the slowness – the fastness.

On the 20th anniversary of the release of “Baseball”, MLB interviewed Ken Burns. Here’s what he said why he thinks baseball is the greatest game ever invented. I couldn’t agree more:

I love this game! Let’s just say, “What are the elements that make this the greatest game ever invented?”

No clock. And in what other sport does the defense have the ball? Baseball is the evolutionary improvement on cricket. In baseball, the defense has the ball. In all the other sports, the ball scores. In baseball, the man scores. And he comes home! The ball could be going in the other direction. In fact, if it is going in the other direction, he does go home.

Baseball demands blinding speed but it has this strange, contemplative pace to it. There is an amazing set of things that go on in this game that make it observable at any level. You can keep score of every pitch or at-bat, or you can just follow the game avidly, as I do.”

The pace is terrific. All meaning accrues in duration. The work you’re proudest of, the relationships that mean the most to you, have benefited by your sustained attention. Baseball rewards attention. Life rewards attention. Most of our consumer society is based upon inattention. It’s the tortoise and the hare. I’m happy to be with something that people might think is really slow because the others will sit down and rest and we will always cross the finish line. It’s the greatest game ever invented.”