True baseball fan Jon Sindell gives up on baseball non-believers.
Sports fans, please—do not watch the baseball playoffs! If we want to bury the so–called National Pastime at last, we must not encourage its smug supporters who insist beyond all reason that their game possesses some mysterious allure that the rest of us are too blind to see. So do not watch the playoffs! It will only encourage them.
The non–fans have left?
Cool! Now it’s just you and me and the jubilant multitudes who love this great game.
Which means I can offer some private advice:
Let the non–believers go. They don’t get it, they won’t get it, and they will just ruin your fun if you invite them over in the hope of inspiring them with your love of the game. It can’t be done—at least, not on the spur of the postseason moment, it can’t. As The Lovin’ Spoonful said, “It’s like tryin’ to tell a stranger `bout rock `n’ roll.”
Oh, I know, zealot, you’ve got just the right lines to enlighten your friends. But I’ve been a baseball evangelist too. Here’s how it will go.
You’ll invite a non–fan friend to watch at your house. After disarming him with long–simmered chili, and patiently listening to his complaints about his fantasy football team, you’ll tell him with a gleam that Bryce Harper’s bat is a Jedi light saber, Mike Trout’s bat is the hammer of Thor, Kershaw’s curve an illusionist’s trick, Chapman’s fastball Zeus’s thunderbolt, Lorenzo Cain’s glove an electromagnet, and McCutcheon’s spikes superpowered jets.
With a pained grimace, he’ll ask for a beer. You’ll gladly comply.
Your mark now lightly buzzed, and staring at the screen with the set–upon glower of an algebra student in the back row, you’ll acknowledge his observation that multiple bodies are rarely in action, and you’ll explain that every pitch is in reality an epic confrontation between practitioners of two of the most skill–intensive arts in the athletic kingdom. The best pitchers, you will note, combine the manual dexterity of a diamond cutter, the balance of a dancer, the cunning of a wizard, the marksmanship of an archer, the cool of a hostage negotiator, the court sense of a point guard, and the size and strength of a quarterback.
They’ve finished one beer and asked for another. “Doesn’t look that tough,” they’ll say with the beginning of a sneer.
So you’ll apologize amiably for camera angles that fail to show the incredible speed and cut of the fastball and the mind–bending trajectory of sliders and curves, and you’ll surmise inwardly that the lost soul before you has never played baseball, for what person who has been unmanned by a fastball or humiliated by a curve does not brim with appreciation for the difficulty of the pitcher–batter confrontation?
Even Michael Jordan and John Elway couldn’t hit, you’ll note, and you’ll add that fielding even the most innocent grounder or fly is a difficult feat. Your friend will grumble ambiguously, but the food endorphins are smoothing his rancor, so you’ll note with a philosophical air that baseball isn’t very well suited for television due to its enormous canvas.
Long fly balls that are majestic and suspenseful in person, you’ll observe, disappear from the screen as the camera closes in on the waiting outfielder, and baserunners streaking around the bases on a double to the gap disappear from view as we see the lead runner crossing the plate at a casual trot.
“Good point,” they’ll say. “And the game’s too slow.”
You’ll note with a chuckle that many fastballs come in at 98 miles per hour, and are often repelled at 110. Other forms of action—runners blazing, outfielders streaking, infielders diving—come in ecstatic bursts which are more pleasurable for their very scarcity, for baseball’s biggest moments are an enormously satisfying release of built–up tension, like a great meal served after hours of cooking—or, of course, sex. Those big moments, you’ll add, are generally far more important to the outcome of a game than in sports with constant scoring, and the authors of those moments occupy center stage with every spotlight on them.
Your friend will bury a chip in the dip, pretending it’s you.“Okay,” he’ll grumble, “but baseball’s boring.”
For one wounded moment you’ll consider retorting, “It’s only boring to boring people.” Then you’ll remember, as Nick’s father told him in Gatsby, that not everyone has had the same advantages as you, and you’ll consider—silently, of course—that even Shakespeare is “boring” to those who can’t o’er perch the high orchard wall of Elizabethan English. Your friend will sink deeper into your couch, but you are determined to raise him up high, for you have been to the mountaintop, and are burning to share its glorious view.
So you’ll rhapsodize over the balletic grace of the well–turned double play, working the remote to show a Brandon Crawford–Joe Panik pas de deux over and over. Your friend is now texting to much better friends. Refusing to surrender, you’ll draw on everything you’ve ever absorbed from the extensive literature extolling the sublime appeal of the game.
Baseball is the most sociable of games, you’ll sociably observe, the one with just the right pace for amiable conversation and true bonhomie; it’s the game fans follow daily, the one that allows fans to bond with their favorites like none other, the game that reveals character like none other, the game with pennant races with operatic arcs, the game with the signature crack of wood bat on ball (though the TV broadcasts this year have transformed the crack to a plywood ping). Finally you’ll sum up the futililty of attempting to encapsulate baseball’s multifarious allure as follows: “The greatest thing about baseball is, I’ve heard a hundred sentences beginning with, `The greatest thing about baseball is.’” You’ll smile as if you have hit a game–winning homer.
“Look,” your friend will say, his smile dripping with malice and beer, “World Series ratings suck.” Yes, you’ll agree, and you’ll patiently explain that baseball is less a national spectacle than a regional passion, citing statistics proving the enormous appeal of televised baseball to local fan bases, and quoting the latest astronomical dollar amounts of the regional TV deals that signal baseball’s health.
Your set–upon friend is several beers past the ability to grok numbers, but he is not past the ability to unfriend you on Facebook, and he does so on his smart phone while secretly planning to unfriend you for real.
So forget your fool’s errand. Instead, learn the Baseball Serenity Prayer:
May you grant me the serenity to accept the non–fans who cannot be redeemed, the courage to enlighten those who can be (but not during the postseason!), and the wisdom to watch the playoffs only in the company of true fans like myself.
`Cuz you can’t tell a stranger `bout rock `n’ roll.
(Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons/thatlostdog)