I am a rare European-born and raised naturalized American who gets baseball. For most of my fellow emigrants, the game is too static, too full of seemingly inconsequential action when only a couple of people seem to get involved (for instance, when the batter takes a ball), and not very athletic on the surface – occasional big-assed first baseman or a pot-bellied pinch-hitter among the major leaguers never fail to elicit an uncomplimentary comment from people of my background.
I can kinda see their point (just as I can kinda see the point about soccer – football – being a boring game where nothing of consequence may happen at all for long periods of times; the key here, of course, is what you count as being of consequence…). And when they ask me what I see in that game, I say that several things appeal to me: it is a rare team game in which your best player can only have as many attempts at scoring as your ninth-best player (and you cannot send him in to bat at the game’s most crucial moment, unless it is actually his turn); the expectation of something exciting happening on the next play – in simplest terms, a home run, – is greater than similar expectations in other team sports; and the stand-alone individual efforts manifested in the direct one-on-one clash of opposing players in the context of the overall team effort makes it easier to identify with the players you root for.
To say nothing of the feeling that if a big-assed, pot-bellied dude can be a major leaguer, then a reasonably-athletic yours truly could be too. Or, rather, could have been – if not for the obvious handicap of not having grown up in America and not having played the game as a child.
Things that are impossible to quantify, in other words.
Unlike football, though, I can’t really get much into watching baseball when the team I root for does not play. But when the Yankees play well into the postseason, watching them becomes a priority.
The few years that we lived in London, the Yanks ended their seasons in disappointment, bowing out in the first round of the playoffs or missing them altogether. We came back – and suddenly the Yankees are the best team in baseball again, and now only one win away from re-gaining the ultimate glory that eluded them for almost a decade. It has been a pretty interesting postseason too, with everything from brilliant pitching performances to overturned umpiring decisions to a once-in-a-lifetime steal of two bases on a single pitch.
And yet, some things in baseball are just plain weird. Joba Chamberlain entered the game in the 8th inning with one-run lead, which he unluckily gave up, exiting with the score tied. When the Yanks scored 3 more runs in the 9th, Joba ended up as the winning pitcher of record, even though he did not pitch anymore and, in effect, was the only pitcher who made things worse for the team. How exactly does that make sense?