The Baseball Desert

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Stop, start

One of the things that has always drawn me to baseball is that it's a game of discontinuous action. I grew up watching soccer and cricket, and although I spent more time watching the former than I did the latter, I think that cricket always appealed to me more because of those constant breaks in the action. Soccer has its breaks too, but they're much shorter, and the game itself flows - and time passes - much quicker. Cricket, on the other hand, is a game where there is a break between every delivery, giving the players, the spectators and the broadcast teams time to take a step back and place everything back in the bigger picture.

Baseball is exactly the same kind of game. Despite it being an incredibly physical game, those bursts of action are quite widely spaced, and the time between each pitch, each at-bat and each inning is time which all of us can use to look back at what has just happened and look forward to what is about to happen.

If you watch any baseball game closely enough, you end up noticing that there are actually countless moments when time seems to just stop. The same kind of thing happens in other 'bat & ball' sports – tennis and golf are the ones which spring to mind – where there's a split-second before the action where everything seems to be in suspended animation, and there's an overwhelming sense of a huge wave of energy about to be unleashed. The tennis player comes to a stop just before the ball is thrown up in the air for the service; the golfer stops for a second just before starting the backswing; the baseball diamond is frozen in time just before the pitcher goes into his wind-up. Once that moment is over, there's a flurry of action as the ball heads towards the opposing player, the green or the plate, but it is that moment which appeals so much to me as a fan. In the minutes and seconds leading up to it, we can see all the potential outcomes of the situation, and chances are that we're probably praying for one or more of them at any given time (strike, strikeout, ground ball, double play, sac fly, home run). As time stops for a moment, the play and the game are ours to imagine as we see fit, but once that split-second is over, the game is once more beyond our grasp and in the hands of the guys on the field.

Last night's game saw one of those moments taken to the nth degree: one-run Sox lead in the top of the 8th, two on and two out for the Yankees, A-Rod at the plate. Messrs Buck and McCarver – Fox's resident specialists in "stating the blindingly obvious" – pointed out that this was the ballgame right here. Tito clearly felt the same way, and he summoned Papelbon from the bullpen to put an end to the foolishness. However, thanks to the vagaries of Massachusetts weather, the key moment of the game was suspended for much longer than a mere split-second. The rain came down before Papelbon could throw a single pitch, and he had to wait 2 hours and 11 minutes before he could get back out there and face A-Rod. (Question, did the baseball gods do that on purpose, thinking, "Shit, we can't have a Sox-Yankees game that lasts under three hours – let's send 'em some rain"?) Those 131 minutes were enough to allow the following to happen: the tarp to be put on the field; the tarp to be pulled off the field and put back on again; Papelbon to warm up on three separate occasions; Fox to show the end of the D-Backs / Rockies game and yet more inane banter (this time courtesy of Zelasko, Karros and Kennedy); my cable channel to decide to switch to the Bruins game; and, finally, me to go to bed.

So, in the end, the 2 hours and 11 minutes on the East Coast translated into something like nine hours over here, as I was only able to catch up with the 8th and 9th innings of the game over breakfast today. Leaving the game hanging in the balance like that didn't stop me getting a good night's sleep, but there was definitely a sense of unfinished business and a rush to switch on the condensed game this morning. I deliberately picked it up again right where I'd left off, and was rewarded with a three-pitch strikeout of A-Rod and a 1-2-3 ninth.

I wouldn't want all those key moments to be as long in coming, but now and again they really are worth the wait. And in the end I woke up to a win, so my day was made before it even really got started; anything else from here on in will just be icing on the cake.