The Twins are off to a very poor start this season. It would be nice to say there’s no place to go but up, but “famous last words” and so forth. It’s arguable that this season’s start series against the Baltimore Orioles was even worse that the season start series against the Toronto Blue Jays last year. We won one of the three games last year, but just got swept this year.
Last year, after three games we totaled eight runs, whereas this year we’ve racked up only five. Starting pitcher Carl Pavano did better this year, as I mentioned yesterday, but Francisco Liriano did a bit worse in his start this year. Last year, Frankie went 4.1 innings and earned four runs; this year he went 4.0 and earned five. And in today’s game, started Anthony Swarzak went 5.0 innings and earned only one run (which coincidentally is close to Nick Blackburn in game three last year: 5.2 innings with only one ER).
But the bottom line is we lost all three games, and a large share of the reason was our poor hitting. In all three games, we scored runs in only one inning of the game, never more than two (in one case, just one), and those innings came late in each game. Today’s game was very nearly a no-hitter, until doubles by Justin Morneau and Josh Willingham got us on the board with our one and only run (and our only two hits).
Tomorrow is the Target Field opener, and we’ll play the California Angels. The Orioles were thought by many to be an easier team to beat; things get harder now, so we’ll see how it goes. Baseball, like life, is funny, and you never know. Something things work the opposite of what you’d expect.
But enough about these games; they’re better forgotten and left in the rear view mirror for now. I want to talk about something else.
“Baseball is Boring” (Not!)
It’s not uncommon to hear people say that baseball is “boring.” Homer Simpson once made the observation that baseball was boring if you’re not drunk. And my ex-wife recently mentioned she can’t get into baseball (although she is a football fan).
So this post is a bit for her, but in particular for those who think baseball is boring. Of course, our hobbies and sports and interests are personal. One can certainly choose to follow any sport that appeals (or no sport at all). One can certainly find baseball not their choice, but it shouldn’t be for thinking that baseball is boring.
Because baseball really isn’t boring. In truth, once you begin to fully appreciate the game, it turns out to be a very interesting and exciting sport. Personally, I think it’s a lot more interesting than any other sport, and I’d even make an argument it’s actually more exciting.
I will grant that sports such as football, basket ball and hockey, have more movement on the field (or court or ice), and if you only watch them casually, that can make them look more interesting. Baseball is more sedate visually. In some regards, baseball is more akin to chess than to, say, boxing.
And mentioning boxing brings up a key point that may or may not impress you, especially in light of the recent news report about football players being instructed to attempt injury to the opposing players. Injuries in football and hockey are often deliberate, and if not deliberate, are a natural outcome of normal play. This seems to me somewhat like crashes at auto races; the chance of destruction being part of the draw for some. In baseball, injuries are almost always due to accidents. Many baseball rules explicitly forbid contact. For example, a catcher cannot block the plate unless in possession of the ball.
Baseball contains a lot more strategy and subtlety than the other pro sports. Every pitch involves a choice by the catcher (what pitch to signal), a choice by the pitcher (what pitch to throw) and a choice by the batter whether to swing or not and what kind of swing). All these choices depend on who’s pitching, who’s batting, and what bases are occupied and by whom (fast runners, slow runners). Even the pitch count factors in to what pitch a pitcher will throw. Whether the pitcher or batter is right- or left-handed is the least of it!
The way the defense positions itself on the field is also strategic. Those positions depend on who’s batting and who’s on base. This means that baseball players, especially catchers and pitchers, need a strong knowledge about the capabilities of each batter on the opposing team. The batters, in turn, need a good knowledge of the opposing pitchers.
Which brings up another key point: baseball is hugely about individual performance. The other pro sports are often about team work. Football, for example, other than the Quarterbacks and a few key receivers, has an offensive and defensive line. And while those who get deeply into football may appreciate the contributions of individual players, generally speaking, most fans seem to know only the key players. In baseball, every player has a very distinct position with a very distinct job, and usually even the most casual fans know every member of the lineup and what they do.
This extends to another unique thing about baseball: the prevalence of statistics. Every player has a boatload of statistics representing their performance in the last game, in the last XX games (take your pick of XX), in the season and in their lifetime. And these only scratch the surface. You can, for example, look at “splits.” How does a player do in night games versus day games? Or in home games versus away games? And, of course, there is another whole boatload of stats for the team. It’s not just about the number of wins and losses, although, in the end, that is the one stat that matters most.
And I haven’t yet touched on the whole quintessential American-ness of baseball; how it’s our national pastime and deeply ingrained in our national consciousness. The saying is, “As American as baseball, hot dogs and apple pie.” (And it is, perhaps, no coincidence that hot dogs are thought to have been invented for baseball fans.)
Nor, for that matter, have I mentioned any of the classic books and movies made about American baseball. (I recently had a chance to see The Natural again, and I plan to watch Bull Durham tonight.)
Americans have been playing baseball for a very long time (since the mid-1800’s, and the earliest known reference is in a 1744 British publication by John Newbery), and it has spread to other countries (most notably, Japan). “Football,” meanwhile, is actually a completely different sport in most parts of the world.
And, so to my dear ex-wife, consider this: I was right about beer and dogs, and you love them now. If you give baseball a chance, you might just come to love it as well.
“Basketball, hockey and track meets are action heaped upon action, climax upon climax, until the onlooker’s responses become deadened. Baseball is for the leisurely afternoons of summer and for the unchanging dreams.” ~~Roger Kahn