Today, the Pittsburgh Pirates will play their first Sunday spring training exhibitions. The outcome of the game doesn’t matter a bit, except to signal to the world that baseball is back. And I get baseball Sundays again.
Now we fans can start counting down the days to Opening Day on April 3 without seeming like complete lunatics.
They say baseball is America’s favorite pastime, and I think that’s exactly right. No one can doubt football’s dominance in American culture—but football is America’s obsession. Hockey is the niche domain of a handful of fanatics. And basketball…well, Pittsburgh’s only basketball team plays for the University of Pittsburgh, and as a Penn State girl I’m contractually obligated to root against them. It’s a condition of receiving your diploma.
Compared to its contemporaries, baseball is a slow, methodical game. In the age of faster, louder, and more violent, those in charge of baseball are always fretting about ways to shorten the game.
And while I wouldn’t mind the elimination of so many reliever warm-up pitches, which can sometimes suck the tension out of the final innings of a tight game, in general I think trying to gin up more excitement in baseball sort of misses the point.
Today’s baseball is chess on a ballfield. It’s about pitchers and hitters trying to outguess one another. It’s about field position and grinding out ninety feet at a time.
It’s most exciting when seemingly “nothing” is happening. What fan can deny the ratcheting tension of a pitcher’s duel? The nail-biting agony of a deep no-hitter, or the sense of history one feels watching a potential perfect game?
Any true baseball fan will tell you that a 0-0 game going into the ninth inning with both starting pitchers still on the mound is infinitely more exciting that an 11-11 homerun fest.
Throughout the spring and summer, I spend Sunday afternoons with the Pirates on the radio. As I clean the house, or start making dinner, I listen as the broadcasters give me the play by play. Most of the Pittsburgh announcers have been on the air for years, so it’s like spending an afternoon with old friends. Win or lose, we have a good time.
I also believe baseball is a sport best savored in person or on the radio. It isn’t made for television—it’s too slow. Too much white space. In person, you’re filling in the gaps with conversation with good friends, or sipping on your beer and soaking up the sun. On the radio, your imagination is working to see the picture the announcers paint for you.
Baseball is a long season. Only the most diehard fans tune into every game. But that’s part of what makes it a pastime. If you miss an inning, or a game, no problem. There’s always another the next day.
Today I’ll have my radio on just to hear the familiar sounds of baseball—a crack of the bat, the pitcher’s fastball hitting the catcher’s glove.
Our boys play again and again and again in pursuit of that elusive World Series win.
And I’ll be right there with them.