The Baseball Desert

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Baseball, the Internet & me (Part II)

There are moments in life when you fall head-over-heels in love – with a member of the opposite sex, with a song, with a city, with a particular flavour of Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream – and in October 1986 I realised you can fall in love with a sport. It wasn’t quite love at first sight, because I’m sure I saw at least one or two of the earlier Series games that year, but I do know that when I saw Game 6 of that World Series, with all its drama and its tension and its amazing finish, I was hooked.

Like with football, I didn’t understand all the subtleties of what I was seeing on the field, and I certainly didn’t understand the historical aspects of what was going on (the first time I saw it, Bill Buckner’s error was just a ball that got by a first baseman, and not a stake driven through the heart and hopes of Red Sox Nation) but, unlike with football, it didn’t really matter, because I was under the spell.

Buckner’s error was clearly the highlight (or lowlight) of the game, but it was the rest that had really got my attention – the pitching, the hitting, the fielding, the catches, the throws, the uniforms, the caps. You name it, I loved it. In purely visual / entertainment terms, it had everything that football had (the teams with ‘exotic’ names, the uniforms, the caps…), but in sporting terms it had some indefinable quality that just drew me to it. Thomas Boswell wrote a great piece a good few years ago entitled “99 Reasons Why Baseball Is Better Than Football”, and although many of the points could provide fans of the respective sports with years and years of material for heated debate, there are one or two of his reasons which ring true for me. The fact that football is a very physical sport in which players are obliged to wear protective padding and helmets is one of the things I don’t like – the players are immediately distanced from the crowd, hidden behind their clothing, whereas in baseball, we get to see what they actually look like. On top of that, a lot of football players – as Boswell says – are like freaks of nature. One of the football players I remember best from those Channel 4 days was William ‘The Refrigerator’ Perry, and the nickname says it all really (actually, that’s not quite true - the nickname didn’t really do him justice, because he was in fact bigger than most refrigerators I had ever seen…). Although baseball players are clearly athletes in excellent physical condition (with the exception of David Wells, they look more or less like regular human beings.

The fact that they looked like you or I (OK, I have more of a David Wells figure than a Randy Johnson one, but it’s still more or less the same ballpark…) was both positive and, in a sense, misleading. It was positive because it meant I could identify – and identify with – these guys, but it was misleading in the sense that they made a hellishly difficult sport look relatively easy. It was only when I stepped out onto a baseball field for the first time that I realised that the ball moves pretty quickly from the pitcher’s hand to the catcher’s glove, that the 90 feet from home plate to first base is further than it looks on TV and that playing center field is not quite as easy as the Brewers' Brady Clark makes it look...

Part III