By CJ DONALD – COLUMNIST
Of the major American sports, baseball is considered to be the redheaded stepchild.
Sports fans have, whether they realize it or not, neglected baseball and continue to banish the sport to the closet under the stairs.
It is no secret that this disregard for hardball has contributed to a massive diminution of television ratings and ticket sales.
Some folks proclaim that baseball’s pace is too slow for them. They argue that, unless they are able to see a game in person, their interest level in the sport is nil.
They say the season is too long, the rules are too complicated, and the players are too numerous to take any real interest in. Many people reject baseball’s claim as “The National Pastime” in favor of gridiron football.
This information is old. My question, however, is new: Is baseball boring or are Americans antsy?
Well, I contend that baseball is actually more exciting than basketball and football.
From game to game, teams are held hostage by weather conditions, each player’s mindset, differing field dimensions, and flexibility of umpires. Baseball schedules are constantly rearranged because of rain-delays. Outfielders fight against Boston’s Green Monster and infielders have rolled many an ankle on Oakland’s Mount Davis.
Additionally, fans are allowed more involvement in the sport than in any other. We all remember Steve Bartman’s influence on the postseason hopes of the 2003 Chicago Cubs.
Without his interference, the Cubs would have been four outs from winning their first National League pennant since Jackie Robinson signed his first contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Baseball is exciting because even the best player will, inevitably, succumb to the luck of a rookie.
On any given night, the Sonny Gray’s of the world are capable of pitching a complete game and getting the best of players such as Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera. Baseball allows relative unknowns to have tremendous impact on seasonal outcomes.
More than any other, baseball is, and forever will be, a tough sport. Pitchers and batters stand a little more than sixty feet from each other.
Players plant themselves in a box as a leather ball zips towards their bodies, armed only with a wooden bat and a helmet.
It takes an elevated level of bodily-kinesthetic intelligence to drive a ball 400 yards through the air into the hands of screaming fans.
It takes a mastery of sight and speed to place a ball just beyond the outstretched glove of the shortstop in order to allow the runner on third base to score.
It is more than skill that allows pitchers to send a baseball dancing towards home plate. It is an art of another dimension when a double play is flawlessly executed to decisively end an inning.
Baseball players are stronger, better, and faster than ever before. Managers and bench coaches have access to a plethora of statistics and coaching methods previously untapped until now due to developing technology. Because of the interweb, fans are privileged enough to watch each of their favorite team’s games via smartphone, tablet, or cable television.
Despite this, many folks believe that baseball is just plain boring. There are many people who, halfway into paragraph four of this piece, realized that they no longer cared enough to read about baseball. There are many more—men and women, alike—who saw the title and decided that the only thing more dull than watching baseball would be reading about how dull baseball is not.
To those folks I would say: baseball is not boring; you are just antsy. Those same folks probably enjoy basketball because of its procedural expediency and watch football because it is easy to understand.
In the same way that it takes an elevated athletic ability to play baseball, an elevated mental capacity is required to watch and enjoy it. Effortless it is not, to follow a season that begins in February and ends in late October. A fan is required to invest time and energy.
Maybe this is why many Americans refuse to indulge in the true National Pastime: it requires too much commitment from the fan.
It is easy to understand a box score for football and basketball, but to be a baseball fan is to devote effort that most are not willing to give.
The time obligations are too great and on-the-field action, many feel, is too minor. It is often said that “…nothing has happened.”
Antsy fans would rather not spend their day at the ballpark. Antsy fans would rather not listen to the play-by-play on the radio.
Antsy fans do not understand the beauty of a perfectly executed double play.
Those same folks, erroneously, readily criticize baseball for a lack of speed. To use another sports metaphor, watching baseball is a marathon, not a sprint.
Baseball may not be your cup of tea, but it definitely is not boring. It is a sport that takes patience and expertise to understand, and that, rather than some lackluster quality, is what makes fans antsy.