I have a kid who has played baseball since he was 6 years old. He’s now 17 and going strong on his high school varsity baseball team as a catcher.
I’ve met many a parent on the sidelines during this decade of playing America’s pastime, and most are enthusiastic supporters. We all love watching our kids play, improve their skills and connect with the game.
Some parents I’ve met along the way have been less excited, complaining that baseball games take too long, are boring or lack the constant action some other sports bring.
These folks have missed the nuance of the game, probably because they didn’t sit through thousands of them over time like I have. Even a mom as ignorant of the rules of baseball as I am has learned a lot over the years (and yes, sometimes I think I know a little more than the coaches depending on the day, team and scenario).
Baseball isn’t boring. It isn’t lacking action. There is something going on with every play. There is constant strategy involved. There are big moments, and smaller moments, if you’re tuned into the game.
Sure, everyone loves a home run, or better yet, a grand slam or a walk-off hit for a win. No one can deny the excitement of a no-hitter or the elusive perfect game, or even a lot of strikeouts by a pitcher in his element.
Those are magical moments, but the bulk of most games is spent in the trenches, building a win pitch by pitch and play by play.
A coach, or sometimes the catcher if he’s calling the pitches, thinks strategically about the batter at the plate. What will he swing at, and likely miss? What junk does the pitcher have in his arsenal…a moving fastball? A curveball that drops out? A killer changeup? How can those pitches be used to make the batter strike out?
Conversely, the batter has to think about what pitch is coming his way and how he’s going to approach it. He’s got to watch the ball all the way in and not get sidetracked by the chants of the players, a bad call or the fact the bases may be loaded and he’s the hero if he hits a homer.
I’ve read that batting is the hardest technical maneuver in any sport. To hit a small round ball moving at high velocity with a rounded bat with a limited diameter — and do it well each time — is difficult. Going three for ten (batting .300) is considered good. It certainly explains why so many strikeouts and pop flies happen even in the major leagues.
Each player has a job for each play when out in the field, and the good players are moving on every pitch, and then reading the ball when it smacks off the bat. You don’t have long to react and a player needs to know what to do with the ball during every play.
Everyone has a critical job to do, but the pitchers and catchers get the most action, and it’s been said more times than I can count how games are won on the mound and lost at the plate.
When the catcher sends the sign for each pitch, he lines up in the best position to receive it. That’s why you see catchers move around a lot behind the dish. Pitchers, on the other hand, need to hit that mark. If they don’t, the ball can get by the catcher. A catcher scrambling after a ball allows players time to steal bases or worse, home.
Fielding errors, stealing bases, suicide squeezes, pick-offs, and gunning someone down can create tension and change the momentum of the game.
It’s a team sport, and also one where individuals can shine, and must be responsible for doing their specific job.
Sometimes players and parents slog it out in the rain, cold or unbelievable heat to see a baseball game to the end, but we’d rather be there than anywhere else.
I’ve certainly enjoyed watching my kid through the years, but also a multitude of other young men he’s played with throughout his tenure. There have been some highs and some lows, but deep down, this really is a slice of Americana.
As my buddy Blake Crosby reminded me, with a great quote from the film Field of Dreams, “The one constant through all the years…has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past…It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again.”
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