The baseball winter meetings are being held this week. Trades will be made, free agents signed and at the end of the week we’ll start speculating about what it all means while we dream of the return of summer.
Baseball. For a Canadian it is almost heretical to prefer baseball to hockey. As the son of an English mother, it is strange that I refer it to cricket or soccer — yes, I know, football.
But I do. Maybe because it is one of the few sports that the tragically unatheletic can play (I have played soccer but too much running). You stand there while someone tries to throw a ball past you and you try to hit it. You are considered a huge success of you hit the ball 30% of the time. Well, hit it where no one can catch it or throw you out at first. But still, a modest success rate for limited odds.
Of course, you can only do this if the pitcher is as unskilled as you are. If you’re facing someone who is actually athletic, you’re lucky to see the ball 30% of the time.
But this is not about me. This is about the most entertaining and exciting sport ever invented.
The trouble is: most people only see baseball on TV. TV does not do baseball justice. TV focuses on too little of the field. It fails to show the real majesty of a long home run. A fan — a real fan — can see a home run as soon as it leaves the bat. It’s not the sound or the trajectory of the ball that tells you — it’s the way the outfielders react.
Similarly TV hides the speed of a shortstop making a diving catch on a hot liner going up the middle, the agility and strength of throwing the ball from your knees, nearly a hundred and twenty feet. TV lies about the way a knuckle ball comes to the plate, tantalizingly slow, so slow, you think, I could hit that. Except it is still going 75 miles an hour and not going anyplace in particular either. Just somewhere past you.
TV doesn’t show how big many baseball players are or when they aren’t big, how whip-like fast. No, it fails to capture any of that. As well, baseball has the best characters in sports — only snowboarding comes close.
Oh, yes, there are people who cheat (true in all sports) and who don’t handle money well or elegantly (true in all walks of life), but for every one of those there is a Derek Jeter, a R.A.Dickey or a Roberto Clemente.
And then there’s Jackie Robinson. ‘Nuff said.
And that’s ten minutes.