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Coming to the Defense of the National Pastime

I understand that you think baseball is too slow. I understand that you don’t know who the stars are. I understand that you were turned aback by the steroid era. I understand that baseball will never measure up to football or basketball in your eyes. I understand where you’re coming from; I just happen to disagree.

(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

As Commisioner Bud Selig passes the throne of Major League Baseball onto the next unassuming victim, Rob Mandred, the next wave of thinking in baseball is upon us. This process has led to a public media referendum on everything that is wrong with baseball and precisely how it should be fixed. Everybody thinks they’re an expert. So in light of this unfair dissection – which completely ignores the fact that significant flaws exist in every sport – I want to come to the defense of baseball.

Photo via www.aol.com
Photo via http://www.aol.com

There’s something about putting a tangible number or set of numbers on the intangible, irrational love I have for players or teams that fully completes fan hood. I love knowing that Dustin Pedroia is hitting .284, up nearly 20 points from a few weeks ago, or being able to list the top 10 leaders in all-time homeruns off the top of my head. Only baseball would celebrate David Ortiz hitting his 400th homerun in a single uniform – and I enjoy that. From OBP to OPS to WAR to WHIP to good-old-fashioned ERA or BA, there are so many ways to dissect and track a player that make the game so much more enjoyable. Whether you think the advanced metrics are dehumanizing the game or create an entirely new way to enjoy baseball, they have yet to be successfully duplicated by any other sport.

photo courtesy of www.concordmonitor.com
photo courtesy of http://www.concordmonitor.com

Sure, some baseball games are slow, but to pin baseball as “slow” in a derogatory manner is misplaced. Baseball is more elaborate than slow. The pitcher isn’t standing on the mound staring down the hitter for 30 seconds for no reason, he’s doing it to hold the ball and try to throw off the jump of the speedy runner trying to steal second base. The pitcher isn’t shaking off the catcher’s signs to stretch his neck, he’s doing it to try to convince the hitter he’s throwing a breaking ball in the dirt when he really wants to groove a fastball up. That’s the thing about baseball. Unlike football or basketball – reactionary sports – baseball is almost entirely mental. It comes down to one pitcher facing off against one hitter. Greg Maddox, an all-time great pitcher, didn’t have the best physical “stuff.” He became a hall-of-famer off his mentally overbearing ability to deceive hitters. Knowing those intricacies of the national pastime significantly helps a casual fan enjoy, and get the most out of, baseball.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Baseball, as a whole, is a slower game. Fact. The average MLB game lasts approximately 2 hours and 58 minutes. By that same token, however, the average length of an NFL game in 2013 was actually longer – 3 hours and 10 minutes – than that of the MLB. The only difference lies in the number of commercials and halftime length as opposed to player-created added time. The discernable difference – that the NFL is so engulfed in the revenue it generates with its absurd number of commercials, over 100 per game – that its time issues are less fixable than those of Major League Baseball. Baseball simply needs to crack down on time between pitches to shorten its game by nearly 15 minutes per game. Changes need to be made to the game of baseball, no doubt, but to peg baseball as the only sport with this problem would be misguided.

There is so much more to baseball than the nine-inning game. An entire sunflower-seed-spitting, dirt-on-the-pants culture that surrounds the game – from little league to the MLB – adds to the mystique. There’s something about being able to sit down with my grandfather and start speaking the language of baseball for three hours. Baseball breaks down generational gaps unlike any other.

Say what you want about the game that I love, but there is nothing I would rather do on a given day than sit in Fenway park with a bag of popcorn and watch nine innings of baseball unfold in front of me.

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