Doing the Happy Dance: baseball season is almost here


The great thing about running a blog is that you get to write about whatever you want, even if it doesn’t fit neatly into the blog’s general subject.

Baseball, for example.

I love baseball, and the time between the World Series’ end and the beginning of Spring Training is a time of despair and repeatedly refreshing baseball blogs for any hint of news from around the league — injuries, Dominican Winter League updates, transactions, arbitration hearings, whatever.

It gets boring.

More than football or hockey, baseball is a gentleman’s sport — fighting is generally looked down upon, and players don’t die young from brain injuries as frequently. And in basketball, one star player with a single sidekick (think Jordan and Pippen) carry a team to a championship, in baseball that’s simply not the case. Albert Pujols’ incredible skills are wasted if you can’t build a lineup with solid hitting threats behind him and solid table-setters ahead. A starting pitcher can only be on the mound every fifth day.

Despite the fact that tickets and concessions at the game aren’t cheap, the financials of baseball are interesting as well. Seeing small-market teams find ways to compete with the big dogs (or not, in some cases) is a fascinating way to spend free time year-round, thanks to the differences between MLB’s economics and those of other sports (see previous note about November – January being boring months for baseball fans). Seeing big-market teams still invest in their farm systems and bring up exciting young prospects, watching to see where the Cliff Lees and Carl Crawfords sign their career-making contracts, and seeing those big-ticket players in their new homes with great expectations is almost as fascinating as the game itself.

And make no mistake, the game is fascinating. Basketball has amorphous concepts like “transition” which are difficult to define and assess. Baseball, meanwhile, is made up of a series of discrete, statistically significant events, little mini-operas in which one guy holding a ball of leather-wrapped, rubberized cork sixty feet away stares in at his opponent and says “all right chump, let’s see if you can hit this.” Meanwhile, another guy holding a piece of lumber digs his spikes into the clay and thinks “all right meat, let’s see if you can get one by me.” A few mysterious one-handed gestures from the catcher, a set, a windup, a pitch, and something magical might happen. Maybe it won’t; the pitcher’s and batter’s statistics can only tell us the general likelihood of a given outcome, but on any given day the lanky journeyman shortstop could hit a bases-clearing triple to win the game, or the clutchest slugger that ever clutched could strike out to end it.

That’s how the game is played — a series of discrete events that cannot be predicted with any real sense of accuracy, only of affirmation when the stats bear out and the “right” outcome happens, and pure unadulterated wonderment when that unlikeliest of outcomes actually happens, the crowd roars, and the play-by-play announcer audibly shakes his head in amazement.

To be present for one of these moments — a no-hitter, a grand slam, a prospect’s major league debut, a lofty record falling, a hated rival coming to town and a sell-out crowd thirsting from start to finish for the home team to put their opponents away, a clutch hit off the lights-out closer, seeing a long-suffering franchise’s players awarded their World Series rings after generations of futility — these are magical moments, and they only happen in one game.

I. Love. Baseball. And it’s coming soon.

Thank God.