What baseball means to me isn’t exactly what it means to a die-hard baseball fan, and it definitely isn’t what it means to a casual observer. Baseball isn’t just a game to me, it means so much more. Yes, in terms of the outcome, baseball is just a sport, something to keep us entertained as we travel through this life on Earth and prepare for our eternal destination.
I don’t — or at least try not to — get caught up in the outcome of my favorite team. Instead, I try and enjoy every precious second that they’re on the field, whether they’re up 10 or down 10. Because at times like this in the dead of winter, I would give anything to watch the Braves get blown out by the Cubs.
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Ultimately, it’s the game itself that brings us back each and every summer. But there is so much more that goes along with this game. Baseball season means summer is near or is indeed here. For kids, it means school is out. For those who absolutely despise any temperature below 45, it means it’s okay to come outside. It also means the pools are open, and hopefully a beach trip is in the near future. Late-night trips to get ice cream are back in play, and grilling outside is now an option.
One of my favorite things that comes along with baseball season is being able to ride with the windows down, while the sounds of an afternoon game infiltrate the outside air and flow into the streets.
But there is a lot to be desired about the game itself. For many, it’s a chance to take the family out to a game and spend some quality time together. Or, if not with family, the ballpark is a great place to take a friend or significant other (and any girl who is willing to let you go to a baseball game is a keeper in my book — especially if she actually enjoys going).
With today’s ballparks getting more extravagant, there are tons of things going on besides the game. There are attractions set up for the kids and restaurants for the adults to hang out in. Not to mention box seats for the upper-class fan who, for some reason, thinks it’s a good idea to watch a game behind glass and in business attire; however, if any of you would like to offer me tickets in that section, I’ll gladly accept — but don’t expect me to wear a dress shirt and tie.
For me, personally, there are so many things beyond the outcome that make attending a baseball game exciting. There is nothing like sitting under the hot summer sun wearing your team’s favorite colors or feeling the heat coming off the bleachers as you roll your sleeves up while sitting under a cloudless sky or hearing the singing of the National Anthem, the sound of the ball snapping into the mitt, the sound of an organ and the songs that only make sense at a baseball game, the cheers from the crowd when your favorite player comes to the plate, the crack of the bat colliding with a 97 mph fastball or the smell of the grass and the stain it leaves on a player diving up the middle, the dust thrown up in the air as a player slides into second, the yell of an umpire on a strike-three call, the movement on a well-thrown breaking pitch, singing in unison to Take Me Out to the Ball Game, the taste of a perfectly cooked hot dog, the crunch of ballpark peanuts underneath your feet, the perfectly chalked baselines, the frat guy trying to start the wave, the fireworks, the newness of a scorecard before the story unfolds, the artwork of it after nine innings of scribble, the second-guessing with the random fan next to you, the smack of high fives after a game-winning home run and, most importantly to me, the feeling of being relaxed, brushing all cares aside for three hours as you enjoy the finest sport ever created, freeing your mind of all the turmoil and wickedness this world provides, and focusing on something so insignificant in the grand scheme of it all that you’re okay making it the most important thing in your life for however long the game may last.
There’s even more that goes into the enjoyment of a game when you’re not in attendance; especially with today’s high-definition televisions that make the picture crystal clear and allow you to see replays instantly. The experience of watching a game at home can be almost as entertaining. For me, it’s gathering around the dinner table with family as the game begins, the sound of your favorite announcers calling out the starting lineups, going outside before the sun goes down and hearing the inexplicable sounds of a baseball game in the background of a radio broadcast, the sound of popcorn popping in the microwave during the seventh-inning-stretch, sitting in the same place when your team is doing good, moving to a different spot when they’re doing bad, leaving the room during tense moments, flipping to another game during commercial breaks, yelling at the television as if they can hear you and, most importantly, watching the game with family and friends, spending time together and making memories around a team, a game that you’ll never forget.
To the hard-core baseball fan, the game goes even beyond the examples above. It starts with analyzing the lineup, and then whether the right amount of lefties are in there to face the right-handed pitcher. Is there enough speed in the leadoff spot? After throwing a fastball up-and-in, will the pitcher come back with something low-and-away or down-and-in? Should he get the green light on a 3-0 count, is it time to take the starter out or leave him in with his spot due up in the order next inning? Do you go to the righty, lefty or set-up man now? Should you use a pinch-runner this early? When do you put in a defensive-replacement for your slow left-fielder? Is the starter’s pitch count too high, is the hitter pulling his head out, is he extending his arms to get to the outside pitch, can he adjust and pull his hips to adjust to that inside pitch? Do you put the shift on for pull-hitters or play it straight up, is it too early to bring the infield in with a runner on third, should you run a squeeze play here, hit-and-run maybe, do you think the runner will steal second against the lefty and, most notably for me, where is the location of the next pitch going to be?
I love when someone tells me that baseball is boring, because I’ll just start naming a few of these things, many of which happen between every pitch, to explain how baseball is the fastest moving sport in the game. These decisions are made in seconds, and there are numerous situations I failed to even mention above. If you really love the game, there is never a dull moment — especially if you’re a National League fan.
As I sit back on this January day with the temperature steadily dropping below freezing as the day goes on, I think about all the examples mentioned above, and how they all bring so much joy to my life; joy that not only comes from the game itself, but from everything that surrounds the game. For eight months out of the year I’m blessed to be able to enjoy this game for exactly what it is and beyond.
Baseball is so much more than a nine-inning affair. It’s so much more than winning or losing. It’s so much more than money. It’s a friendship, it’s a relationship, it’s a lesson, it’s an example, it’s a bond, it’s a release, it’s an escape, it’s a moment, it’s a memory, it’s a stress reliever, it’s a game, it’s everything.