There’s something great about the beginning of April in New England.
Snow fades away (or at least begins to in the Shire); the perpetual white coloring of the outdoors is replaced by green. The temperature rises to about 50 degrees and people awaken from hibernation.
April also signals the beginning of baseball. Spring training finally comes to a close and the games start to count. Even teams like the Houston Astros, projected to finish the season 50-112 by Sports Illustrated, and Minnesota Twins feel as if they have a chance to defy all expectations and win.
Everyone holds a share in first-place and every team steps on to the field thinking that this could be their year.
Today is the day that players in pristine uniforms jog on to the field, on to expertly manicured grass, and prepare for an extensive season spanning 162 incredible games.
Baseball represents America’s pastime and America’s sport of choice. Baseball is the oldest sport in our country and has been prevalent in society since Alexander Cartwright published the rules in 1845 and umpired the first game ever on June 19, 1846. The longevity of the sport out-does every other “Big Four” (football, basketball, hockey and baseball) in America today.
Despite the belief that America is only interested in instant gratification, the “slower” sports are more popular than the fast-paced ones like basketball and hockey. Football is no quicker than baseball, averaging eleven minutes of action for the three hour, ten minute games and thirty-seven seconds between plays. Baseball averages twenty seconds per pitch and each batter faces about four per at bat, (all according to Fangraphs). Neither is decisively quicker than the other.
However, that time between pitches or plays builds battles on the field. When a batter works a pitch count higher, not only is it good for the strategy of the team, but it is also good for the player, who sees more pitches.
For example, in 2004 Dodgers second-basemen Alex Cora went to the dish against Cubs phenom pitcher Matt Clement. Clement had hurled 86 pitches already, and Cora emptied anything that Clement had left in the tank. Cora was sitting on a 2-1 count when he fouled off 14 straight pitches. At that point, it got personal. And finally, on Clement’s 18th pitch, Cora hit a homerun – one of 35 in his 14-year career. Though some people would say, “Come on, hit the ball already!” the battle between a pitcher and a catcher, the mano-a-mano of the game, makes it special.
The schedule of baseball is tedious and arduous for the players who have to head to the plate three or four times a night for 162 games. But for fans, it’s perfect. Being able to turn on the television most any night and watch a game (or even just an inning) of action quenches the baseball thirst of summer.
There are 32 teams in the Big Leagues and, coupled with a minor league system that’s so expansive, that baseball has reach in forty-eight states. Even in Idaho could you see Chukars play ball. Added to this, the atmosphere of baseball is so relaxed that just going to the park on a summer night is enough to improve anyone’s mood.
Another bonus for baseball is the playoffs. After playing 162 games, finally a team’s dreams are realized and they capture a postseason spot. It takes more to reach the postseason in baseball than in any other sport; there is a greater playoff payoff. Twenty-five percent make the playoffs in baseball, 40-percent in football, and 53-percent in both the NHL and the NBA.
The last, and most important, facet in favor of baseball is what it doesn’t have: a time limit. In any other sport, if you’re is down by three scores (football), 15 points (basketball), or two goals (hockey) with less than five minutes to go, the game is surely over. But baseball? The game is never over until the last out is recorded. I know I’m close to a Yogi Berra cliché. Each team gets 27 outs and if a victor can’t emerge by then, hey, give each of them three more.
For example, on August 5th, 2001, The Indians were down to the Seattle Mariners, 12-0 in the 4th, and 14-2 in the 6th. Ultimately, the Indians rallied to win, 15-14 in 11 innings. That game became known by baseball fans as The Impossible Return. In other sports, after such a fast and dominating start, there could be no comeback. It is the biggest comeback in MLB history. More recently, just two years ago the St. Louis Cardinals were down to their last strike in a World Series Game 6 (in two separate innings, no less!) but they came back to win as David Freese led the way to defeat the Texas Rangers, 10-9, in eleven innings. Comebacks like those are unique to baseball.
It’s always been America’s game, since 1845, and baseball will continue to be our game. And this spring…today…the season begins again.