During the final fortnight of this October I was up in the early hours of the morning no less than 6 times. I’m not a great sleeper, butredsox my early risings on these occasions were intentional – I wanted to watch the 2013 World Series Of Baseball, and in particular ‘my’ team The Boston Red Sox. It is very ‘now’, in ‘these parts’ to pour scorn these days on most things Yankee Doodle Dandy, but if you are so minded I would ask you to put those thoughts aside for an American product that is truly great. Even though baseball is not a game that one can understand instantly, if you give it a little bit of time it will reward you uniquely.

Most competitive sports have simple objectives; such as you line up alongside any number of like-minded and try to run a set distance faster than them, or you team up with others and try to hurl the ball through a hoop more times than an opposing team, etc etc.  The complications come in with the number of people involved and the rules. So it is with baseball, the game is simple enough but the ‘complications’ are many.

baseball_diamond3A baseball field consists of an outer perimeter, which is on average about 350 feet away from ‘Home Plate’ and an inner perimeter defined by the diamond of  Home Plate & the 3 other bases, each 90 feet apart from each other.  The game consists of 9 innings, each of 3 ‘Outs’.  If you hit the ball such that it lands between the inner and outer perimeter, in almost every case you will have hit the ball far enough for you to ‘get on base’ via running to one of the other bases, before the ball is thrown to that base. If it’s caught without landing (a ‘flyball’) you’re ‘out’.  And if one of your team-mates achieves a similar feat in the inning, your aim is continue onto to the furthest base possible before the ball is returned to that base. Make it back to Home Plate and your team scores a run. If you hit the ball over the outer perimeter without it being caught you score a Home Run and you & every player on base scores. When you’re not hitting you’re fielding and you take up one on the 9 positions as either the ball-thrower (‘Pitcher’), ball-receiver (‘Catcher’), one of 4 ‘infield’ positions or 3 ‘outfield’ ones. The Pitcher throws the ball and tries to throw it to The Catcher across the strike zone (defined horizontally by the ‘batting box’ and vertically by the batters knees and shoulders) without the Batter being able to either hit it at all or reach a base by not hitting it far enough into play. Each time the pitcher does this it is called a ‘Strike’. If The Pitcher  does this 3 times The Batter is ‘struck out’. The only proviso to this rule is that a 3rd strike has to be a ‘clean’ strike – one that does not hit the bat. If the game is tied after 9 innings, each side plays ‘extra’ innings until the issue is decided. That’s all there is to it – simples!

Now do you remember that I mentioned that there are a number of ‘complications’? In baseball’s case there are many. Among other things there are many different ways to get out (some not even involving pitching or hitting), many specialised skills required by players’ positions, rules that define when and how one can progress between bases, (see here for Wikipedia on thebabe ruth Infield Fly Rule), substitutions & tactics – to mention but a few. And the very pinnacle of the game, Major League Baseball – whose 2 Conference winners compete for The World Series – throws up a variation all of its own with the ‘Designated Hitter’ rule which allows another player to hit for the pitcher in one league (The American) but  not the other (The National).

I’m sure that at least one of my American, or British expats who live ‘over there’, friends will take issue with my above description of The Game. But that is the point – it is a game of subtleties, any of which can come to the fore at any particular stage of the game. Beyond the result, Baseball has many perspectives which define the contributions of every one of the players and the roles that they play in the game. No other game has the opportunities for statistical analysis that baseball has, which in its way indicates that no other game has such intricacies. The higher the level of competence of the players involved, the greater is the impact of appropriate decision-making & execution. At the very top the executions required turn the game into one of sublime tension and veritable beauty.

Like Hamburgers and Pizza, baseball is not an American invention. The origins of Baseball are a matter of some debate but almost certainly the game found its way to The New World via immigration of the game of Rounders in some form.  However in baseball’s case the ‘improved formula’ has evolved into a product worthy of the description ‘Americana’ and that goes for all that travels with it – the stadia, the food and the rituals. If you are ‘over there’ and you get a chance to experience it, do take it!

And oh yes, The World Series* – The Red Sox won it in 6 games.  Joy of joys!


*To those of you who have a ‘problem’ with the MLB – an American sports association, albeit with a Canadian team playing in it –  claiming that theirs is the ‘World’ series I can only say: “A rose by any other name…..”

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2 Responses to Take Me Out To The Ballpark

  1. I recommend Bill Bryson’s new book “1927” which discusses baseball and the 1927 Yankees team.

    One debatable explanation is it is named the ‘World’ Series because it was originally sponsored by a newspaper called World. It used to be called the “World’s Championship Series”.

  2. joelkauf says:

    Thanks Eric for yet another stimulating read. I don’t know much about the game I’ll admit, although possibly a smidgen more than what the average American punter knows about cricket. I recall recently reading that one of the current icons of the game has been endighted on federal charges – (not sure what), but continues to play. How would you explain to the Yanks what “The Ashes” means???

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