OMW’s Ode to Beisbol
I’ll never understand why people do not like baseball. But I guess it is much like chess, or anything else that requires thinking and strategic planning — which is inherently lost on 90% of people under age 25 anyway — but I digress.
I grew up playing every possible sport there was, as long as we had the equipment (or reasonable facsimiles therein) to do so. Basketball was natural, because my dad took me to the court with him from the time I could even toss the ball, through the time I could even make it reach the rim, until I became the long-distance maven that I became, before refining my game as I got into my late teens and early 20s. I was never tall enough (5’10”) to play shooting guard, couldn’t stay healthy enough (almost died after my 11th grade year, after complications with Erythrodermic Psoriasis) and was not adept at ballhandling until I got into my early 20s. Nevertheless, I played, and played 5, 6 days a week for several years. My dad played until about 4 or 5 years ago — clear into his mid-50s.
Baseball, we played all summer, every summer. I had my MLB stat books (back when you had to get the “Baseball Digest”, “Sports Illustrated” and all the newspaper publications that the school libraries offered (New York Times, Greensboro News & Record, USA Today) in order to get your sports information, scores and what have you.
That’s when I really kicked it into high gear with baseball. I had initially been a Mets fan (more so of Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden, but also young Mookie Wilson, Gary Carter and HOJO (Howard Johnson — and who WASN’T a fan of Dr. K and The Straw Man, if you were a Black boy growing up back then?), because they were on TV the most, and my aunt from Long Island had the local Mets broadcast even at her other house, which we visited while living with our grandmother for a few summers.
My sister would even play along (as she did with all the sports I played), and could hit them pretty well, also. I miss those days. All I had to do was go to school, get good grades (both easy), keep my room clean (second nature, as anyone who knows me can attest to), and watch/play sports. I DEVOURED baseball from 1984 until the steroid allegations in the early 2000s. If a game was on, particularly Yankees (became a fan of Don Mattingly and Rickey Henderson after the 1988 season), I was on it — unless I was traveling with my family, which we did, frequently, or in church, or unable to get to the TV set. When Deion Sanders was brought up to play — and yes, I was watching the game where he somersaulted into home plate, live on TV — I was ecstatic. He was still Prime Time on the diamond.
I collected baseball cards like it was my job. My sister did also. I had stats memorized from the annals by the time I was 10. My stats books, which I took to school and other students marveled (one of my boys, Antonio Townsend also did the same, and we have been friends since 1986) that someone who was 10, 11, 12 years old had that much knowledge (or even cared enough about baseball) to sit and observe all these things.
I LOVE BASEBALL, AND I PITY THOSE WHO DO NOT.
I never fully understood all the categories, how to compute ERA and the other advanced statistics back when I was 8, 9 years old, but the game had subtle nuances that even a kid could appreciate; especially when you are raised to be a strategist and a thinker, as I was. Baseball is right up the alley for logical and rational thinkers. Every move is strategic (if done properly), every pitch counts, every pitch builds upon another pitch, every at-bat accumulates a history to which other players and teams can scout players and pitchers. Everything is just a tightly woven web of intrigue.
Now at age 32, I love the game even more. I understand all the statistical categories like it’s 1+1 = 2, and the advanced sabermetrics (thanks, Bill James and Bill James 2.0’s like Tom Mulcahy, Carter Williams and Art Warner-Kamsler ha). Baseball is more fun now than it ever was, even during the Steroid Era. Home Runs are nice, and they have their place, but the older I get, the more I want to see great pitching.
Watching a pitcher with pinpoint accuracy, playing cat and mouse/chess with each batter, making purposeful pitches that set up future at-bats, all culminating with him weaving a gem — is probably the best thing to witness in baseball.
And that is saying something, because watching the following things will never be dull:
— Watching a guy with supreme speed leg out a triple (especially the Rickey Hendersons, Jose Reyeses, Vince Colemans and Rock Raines of the day — even Hawk Dawson before his knees went bad).
— Watching effortless double-plays be turned (i.e. Robinson Cano of the Yankees, who often pops gum while either scooping up ground balls or making a turn off a throw from Derek Jeter or Alex Rodriguez).
— Watching guys like Dante Bichette and his bat-flips after sure-fire Home Runs.
— Gary Sheffield’s batting stance, Sheff being one of my all-time favorites, as I possessed his 1988 Milwaukee Brewers Rookie Card.
— 101 MPH fastballs like that of Justin Verlander and Aroldis Chapman.
— Cut Fastballs like the ones Mariano Rivera throws.
— Watching guys “pick it” at First Base like Keith Hernandez used to do (MERCY) and Mark Teixeira today.
— PLAYS AT THE PLATE.
— Watching an ump, clearly a fan of the game, making an enthusiastic safe or OUT call…
… AND SO ON.
HOW IS BASEBALL “BORING” AGAIN???
Baseball fans, (Harry Caray Voice) “LEMME HEAR YUHHHH…”