5 – In Defense of Baseball

It’s probably a testament to the depth of the sport that I have had such a hard coming up with the words to defend baseball from those who would slander it. After initially being inspired to try to defend baseball after a discussion with a coworker two years ago, this is probably my third or fourth real attempt to write a post on the topic. In the spirit of NaBloWriMo, I’ll take that discarded idea and try to make it work this time around.

Baseball has developed a reputation, rightfully or not, of being a “regional” sport. A casual fan will have no problem watching their own baseball team play on TV, but won’t show much interest in watching a game between two other teams. This is in stark contrast to sports like football or basketball, which often have no issue garnering a multi-fan audience. There are so many passionate fans of their particular team in every baseball market, but there are very few fans who would describe themselves as fans of the MLB or of baseball in general. This has been painted as an issue for organizations like the MLB to solve.

Then there are those who would also accuse baseball of being too “boring.” So much time between pitches and innings can leave some in a stupor that cannot be broken. Suggestions from all over have tried to provide ways of making the game more interesting, from limiting the amount of time between pitches to replacing the pitcher’s spot in the batting order with a designated hitter (which I will probably write another blog post about sometime later). The people enjoy and have become accustomed to constant stimulation, and that is what the people demand.

Me, about to enjoy a great game of baseball.

I’ve wrestled with these issues and others in order come up with arguments to debunk them. Until recently, however, I’ve been coming up empty. Finally, I had my eureka moment at a Mets game this year in the late stages of a losing season.

I was resting at home around 18:00 on a Saturday in September, debating what I should cook for dinner, when I saw an hour-old Tweet from someone I follow on Twitter asking if anyone wanted two free tickets to the Mets game that night that he couldn’t attend. I didn’t have anyone in mind who could quickly make it to Citi Field for the 7:10 start, but I had nothing else going on that night, and there was the also the prospect of seeing injured ace Noah Syndergaard pitch for the first time in months. I messaged the Tweeter, and was able to secure the tickets with just enough to time to make a dash to the subway for a solo journey. I arrived at the stadium and found my seat just in time to catch the first pitch thrown by Noah, which ended up being fortuitous since he only threw four more pitches before departing the game.

As I watched the rest of the game, I found myself losing track of the time from the beginning of an inning to the end. In between innings I’d get up to stretch or find something to eat, but when the players were on the field they had my undivided attention. Whereas conventional wisdom would have you think that going to a game and sitting all by myself would leave me bored to tears, I was actually quite entertained.

When someone who enjoys baseball is watching a game they care about, they become engrossed in the battle between the pitcher and the batter. Everything hangs on the next pitch. With each pitcher’s windup, a million different outcomes are possible. The mystery of “what comes next” keeps the viewer spellbound. It doesn’t matter if there are 10 seconds between pitches or 30. The unknown keeps the mind occupied between the action.

For someone not fanatical about the sport, like my old coworker, they may never enter this hyperaware state. The time between pitches is only more time to look at their phones or wish that they had gone to a soccer game instead. They may be intrigued by the occasional contact made by a batter, but for the most part the sense of wonder will be missing. Where a fan would be lost in thought, a baseball-hater would only be counting seconds until the time comes to leave.

This phenomenon may also explain why baseball is so regional. There is a level of investment required to truly be focused on every pitch of a baseball game. Since I am a longtime fan of the Mets, I have a lot of emotions riding on the outcome of any game. These stakes are what drive my interest in watching the match-up from beginning to end. If, for instance, I were to be flipping channels and found myself watching a game between the San Diego Padres and the Cincinnati Reds, a lack of a real rooting interest in either club wouldn’t incentivize me to watch the game for more than an inning or two. I am a Mets fan first, baseball fan second.

There are many more issues baseball as a whole is supposedly facing, but these would appear to be the prime two examples. Although I’ve come up with answers as to why baseball fans like myself enjoy watching games, I don’t really have a persuasive argument to turn a nonbeliever into a hardcore fan. The problem then, it would seem, is with the individual and not on the sport. Baseball shouldn’t have to contort itself in order to appease a group unwilling to become invested in a team or the sport in general. No amount of home runs or play clocks will change their minds. It’s not baseball that needs defending, but rather the ignorance of nonfans.

Then again, I make no secret of my lack of interest in soccer, even though it’s the most popular sport in the world. There isn’t much I think soccer can do to change my opinion on the matter. I may need to start lawyering up to defend myself on that front.

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