I never played a day of organized baseball, but it is the sport I watch most often, both in person and on TV.
I played basketball in junior high and high school, but given the choice of watching Game 7 of the NBA finals or a game between two last-place teams in Major League Baseball, I’ll take baseball.
I have always watched baseball. When I was a kid, NBC showed games on Saturday afternoons, and ABC had Monday night games. And I did play the game, in backyards in my neighborhood.
But I did not become a fan of baseball until my college roommate showed me the beauty of the game. A player in both high school and college, he pointed out the game’s many nuances, and that helped me enjoy it more.
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In all of those years of watching games on TV, it never occurred to me that every pitch to every batter in every game has a purpose. If, for example, a pitcher is ahead in the count 0-2, the third pitch will invariably be something out of the strike zone, an effort to get the batter, who’s on the defensive, to swing – and miss – at a bad pitch. And even before he takes the mound, the pitcher knows the tendencies of every batter he will face, because baseball compiles more statistics than any sport I know of.
Batters have to be calculating too. With a runner, say, on second base, the batter will try to hit behind the runner so as to advance him to third.
And, of course, the position of every outfielder and most infielders is based on the batting history of the hitter at the plate. If he tends to hit the ball to the right side of the field, the defense will shade him that way.
For enjoyment purposes, it helps too that baseball is played in summer in stadiums that, whether new or old, are distinct. I hope one day to visit them all, but should I die tomorrow, I can say that I saw games in Wrigley Field and Fenway Park.
But most of all, I enjoy the game because I now know that some amount of thinking, both on offense and defense, goes into every pitch. The Washington Post columnist George Will put it this way: “My theory (is) that more than any other sport, a fan’s enjoyment of baseball is a function of how much he understands the nuances” of the game.
The season has started. It’s time to enjoy America’s great game.