Baseball Boring?

The title 3-D has a couple of meanings. There is the obvious and less than elegant fact the it represents its three contributors: John C., John Jacob, and Adam Dorhauer. Like I said, not very elegant, but certainly serviceable.

But it also suggests our vision for the site - to cover baseball from every angle and in every possible dimension. That has a bit more elegance to it, to be sure.

I read my two son’s work, and I am impressed at their ability to ingest statistical data, and regurgitate some pretty sophisticated analysis. And that is certainly a dimension of this great game I can’t get enough of.

But it is not my forte. I bring a different set of skills. I’m a story-teller. I’m an author whose skills are more anecdotal than analytical. My contributions to the site will be qualitatively different, and I hope you appreciate that. It is, as the title suggests, a different dimension.

I often am told by those who just don’t get it that baseball is, um, boring.

I can’t understand that. I truly can’t.

I hear them say that nothing happens for so much of the game, so what is the point.

I can’t understand that. I truly can’t.

In the last week alone, three different people have suggested this to me.

And in response, I tell them a story.

It’s August of 1996. We are on day 11 of our 14 day excursion through the America that is baseball. Each night would find me, an eleven year old John Jacob and a ten year old Adam - with their uncle and my brother Jay - in a different city every night watching a major league ball game. One of the best things about this trip (about which I will tell a number of stories on this site) was that the second week of this trip coincided with the boy’s first week of school. They actually got out of school for a whole week to complete this trip. Mom wasn’t all that thrilled with this. The teacher’s sure weren’t happy. And the boys learned first hand how to live by my own life’s philosophy: it is easier to get forgiveness than permission.

This afternoon, day 11, would find us at Comiskey (excuse me, US Cellular) Park on the South side of Chicago. As if Bill Veeck himself had come back from the dead, it was ‘Bring Your Dog to the Park Day’ - the bleachers were filled with dogs barking and tails wagging and hind legs lifting.

It was late in the game. I was sitting in the nose-bleed seats in what must surely be the steepest upper deck in all of baseball, directly behind home plate.

Runner on second.

Pitcher toeing the rubber, going into the stretch.

This is one of those quiet moments in the game, between pitches, where the uninitiated and uniformed look and say, “Geez this is boring. Nothing is happening - why doesn’t somebody hurry up and do something?!”

Here is what they missed.

As the pitcher toed the rubber, he looked in to get the signal. Sitting upstairs and behind the plate, there was no way for me to catch the catcher’s signal. But, I was in the perfect spot to see him move six inches to his right with a right-handed batter at the plate.

A quick look as the pitcher came out of his stretch saw the second baseman shift slightly to his left, and the center fielder move two steps to his left - not too soon, so as to tip the batter, mind you - but not so late that they could not properly react to the intentions of the informed battery.

The pitch is released, and subtle though this may be I watched the catcher move his glove from in front of his chest, where the target had been set, about ten inches back toward the center of the plate - where both the pithcer threw it and the hitter found it.

It was not great contact he made, but he centered it enough to hit a seeing eye single right back through the box.

Second baseman? Just under his glove in what would have been his attempt to field a slow ground ball and expel the threat for the third out.

Center fielder? He came charging in, knowing what had become evident to all - the runner from second was not slowing as he rounded third.

It would be a close play at the plate - a true banger. In the upper deck, we held our breath. Seeing the play from where we did left us without sufficient evidence to determine the outcome - we needed the umpire. After a brief pause, during which the sliding runner and the stalwart catcher would both peer up in hopeful expectation at the same unmasked man we were all now watching - the arbiter flew both arms out to his side at shoulder level, palms down. We couldn’t hear the call, but we could see it. He was safe.

And why was he safe?

A short slide to the right just fractions of seconds before the pitch would be delivered by the catcher...,

which would cause a short slide to the left by the second baseman and two steps to the left by the center fielder...,

all of which were done with the certain expectation that the man on the mound would do what he was asked.

He didn’t. Just how difficult is it to hurl a ball at 90+ miles an hour with a margin of error of about 2 inches or less? Try it some time.

And what are the consequences of not executing at that level of excellence?

Games are won and lost on these minute details.

Had the pitcher hit his spot, the second baseman would have made the play.

Had the pitcher hit his spot, even if the second baseman tripped over his shoelaces, the center fielder would have made the play charging at the grounder on a more direct line, not having to come at it from his right, reaching across his body to field the ball before making his throw.

And those are the little differences that make all the difference. We would have seen the umps thumb instead of his palms.

That’s one pitch.

Not a damn thing going on.

Quite simply, baseball is one of life’s greatest pleasures.


Jay said...

I remember that day. All I have to say about that day is, thank God Comiskey had bathrooms on the outside of the stadium. Oh yeah and take your dog to the ball park is the WORST promotion ever. Ever.

hostile postulate said...

comiskey, aka the cell, still has bathrooms on the outside of the stadium - they're called the outer walls of the stadium.

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