One sports enthusiast’s perspective on the timeless appeal of baseball
Baseball has its hook in me, and I’m not really sure why. I’m a basketball and football fan, but I find baseball has a unique appeal.
I’m not a big fan of the overly romanticized odes to baseball that too often show up in print or on the big screen. Nevertheless, I must admit that there’s a specialness to baseball.
I guess there’s no better place to start than with spring training. I actually get excited about pitchers and catchers reporting to camp. I love everything about spring training.
I like the leisurely pace in the spring. Players mosey up to the field for batting practice with smiles on their faces. They joke around with teammates and fans and sign autographs along the way.
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Old-timers in uniform hang out around the batting cage or bullpen and share stories with wide-eyed rookies as often as they give baseball advice.
I love the weather at spring training games and sitting in the grass beyond the outfield walls. I love exposing my winter white to the sun and watching better-looking sun worshippers do the same. I get a kick out of five-year-olds playing catch and chasing wild throws down the grassy knolls, often tumbling as their little legs can’t keep pace with their increasing speed.
I love the sameness of it all. I love the open feel of spring training. And the players seem more like the rest of us in the spring.
I cherish sharing family vacations to spring training with my parents and sister; my wife and friends; and, more recently, with my children.
Once the regular season starts, I look forward to perusing the morning box scores while eating my cereal and drinking a cup of tea. Why is this a special ritual in baseball? I rarely look at basketball and football box scores.
Similarly, I love listening to baseball broadcasts on the car radio, whether at home or in another city while travelling. I also listen to baseball games as I jog, ride my bike, mow the yard, and flip burgers during the summer months. All I need is a couple of innings. I don’t remember the last time I listened to an entire game on the radio, but a couple of innings is like a 15-minute chat with a good neighbour over the backyard fence. It’s a comfortable ritual.
Baseball brings a ton of history and nostalgia to the table as well. It connects me to the innocence of my youth like no other sport.
As a Denver native, we weren’t blessed with a Major League Baseball team during my youth. I adopted the Oakland A’s (cool uniforms, funky names, lots of mustaches and nearly as many stars) as my team growing up. I can remember the entire starting line-ups, rotations, and closers for the 71-75 A’s.
My dad recognized my passion for the A’s and baseball and wanted to feed it. He somehow always found a way for our annual Griswold-like summer family vacations to include a game or two involving the A’s in some American League city.
My uncle and older cousin taught me how to keep score at a Minnesota Twins game in 1968. It was the first Major League game I attended. Today, I still love keeping score at baseball games, whether sitting at a game by myself or sharing scoring duties with my wife or kids. Yet the thought of scoring a game in basketball or football (do they score games in football?) never crosses my mind.
There’s no better game for shooting the breeze with family or friends than baseball. The pace is perfect for simultaneously watching the action on the field and catching up on the activities of a buddy’s kids. And going to a baseball game is ideal for family outings. Grandparents and grandkids alike are comfortable hanging out at the ol’ ballpark.
And then there’s the simple ritual of playing catch, whether with a parent, one of your kids, a friend, or even a stranger. It’s a great way to feel the power of connecting with a fellow human being.
I guess part of baseball’s allure is the constancy of it. It’s there with you, day in and day out, for nearly nine months (counting spring training and the postseason). Baseball’s a great companion, even if it’s not your favourite sport.
Whatever the reason — or reasons — may be, once baseball gets you, it has you for life. Jim Bouton captured it best at the end of his classic book Ball Four.
“You spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.”
Ken Reed is sports policy director for League of Fans (LeagueofFans.org), a sports reform project. He is the author of How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan. An updated paperback edition was released in February 2023.
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