A exploration of the philosophy of baseball (didn't know it existed, did you?)
|Opening Day for a new baseball season is almost upon us. And I must admit that I am excited. Baseball was my first love, before basketball, ping-pong, or computer games. When I was in elementary school, my brother and I would sneak into the high school field behind our house. We would take turns pitching to each other, and trying to hit the baseball as far as we could. During middle school, I would go cheer my brother in his Little League games. And one of my fondest memories is our family outings to the local ballpark where the Texas Rangers played.
Baseball is different from the other sports. And the difference is not just in the rules; it is the mentality with which you play the game. Baseball involves confrontation. It is a chess match between the pitcher and the hitter, with constant adjustment by both sides. Both sides study each other meticulously before every game, scouting his weaknesses and strengths and trying to predict the pattern he will follow. Once the game starts, it’s all about being unpredictable. Should I throw a change-up in a fastball count? Do I lay back on the first fastball so he will throw me another one I can handle? But once the pitcher commits to his delivery, there is no more time for reflection, only the baseball flying, meeting either wood or leather.
Baseball is America’s sport, and not because you wash down cracker jacks and peanuts with beer at the stadiums. It is a personal sport, a sport about the individual. Nothing is standardized, but each player has his own style, his own sense of flair. Contrast Barry Zito’s curveball, descending at a tantalizingly slow rate, as if on a golden platter from heaven, with Randy Johnson’s “Frisbee” slider that carves the strike zone in twain from corner to corner. Or Mariano Rivera’s cutter that explodes inwards at the batter’s hands, leaving shards of wood splinters in its wake, with Roger Clemen’s splitter that ducks just below the batter’s swing, as if falling off the imaginary plane of its trajectory. Each swing is unique as well, with some choosing to lay back until the last minute to whip their bats through the strike zone, others poised to slap the ball back up the middle, and still others contorting their entire body to fist the ball along the foul line and into the stands. The fields on which they play also have personalities of their own, with different dimensions that may make one park a haven for pitchers and another one, purgatory.
In a world preaching conformity and cooperation, such individuality is refreshing. There is no perfect pitch or swing—each must develop his technique. And there is no sharing of blame. Whenever you are standing the batter’s box or on the mound, you are the game. Every pitch is magnified, each confrontation a potential turning point. And I cannot help but think that only a game where you take the outcome into your own hands, and must create your own style, is one that is really worth playing.