Tonight, Jeremy Guthrie is the starting pitcher for the Kansas City Royals in Game 7 of the World Series. He attended BYU for one year before heading out on a two-year mission and then finishing his college career at Stanford. I’m watching as much of it as I can—and certainly cheering for the team that hasn’t won a World Series in 29 years.
I have long loved baseball. My earliest memories are of my father cheering for the St. Louis Cardinals when Bob Gibson was pitching. You didn’t mess with Bob Gibson. He owned the inside part of the plate and then some—and you knew it. I played on my first team at age 8. Growing up in Seattle, we played in the rain—a LOT. I was never any good. When I was 10, the Seattle Mariners were born. I listened to the entire first game on the radio. They lost 7-0. I listened again the next night. They lost 2-0. They were clearly headed in the right direction and I got excited—a feeling which has never subsided over 38 years.
Baseball is, in fact, the one true sport. Let me share with you 9 of my reasons for loving it so much. One for every inning:
- Baseball is a thinking man’s game. What pitch should you throw? Where should you throw it? Where should you position yourself? Who should be in the lineup against this pitcher? In what order should they bat? When do you sacrifice, hit and run, steal, pitch out, pinch hit or take a pitch? What pitch is he going to throw to me? There are lots of mental games within the game of baseball and every player, coach, and manager does their best to beat the odds.
- Speaking of odds, they can be quite long in baseball—which makes it a character-building pastime. In baseball, you succeed as a batter if you fail merely 70% of the time. What other sport asks you to persevere in the face of such persistent disappointment?
- Speaking of character, baseball is a marathon. A game could be played in just 3 or 4 innings, but no. It takes 9 full innings and hundreds of pitches. No loser of a baseball game can claim he didn’t get enough chances. Beyond that, a season lasts 162 games. And every. One. Matters!
- Baseball may be a team sport, but each game consists mostly of a series of individual efforts. In baseball, every man is part of a team, yet he must frequently stand alone. He stands in the batters box alone. He faces the batter alone. When the ball comes to him, it is his, alone, to handle. Hank Aaron said, “You stand up there alone, and if you make a mistake, it’s your mistake. If you hit a home run, it’s your home run.” Baseball includes total accountability. Your performance is never lost in the melee.
- Baseball does not require a specific body type. Some great baseball players are short; some are tall; some are thin; some are… less thin; some are fast; some are slow. Yes, it takes a genetic gift to be able to throw a ball 95 mph—and it probably takes a genetic gift to be able to hit an 83-mph curve ball. But by all outward appearances, baseball is and can be Everyman’s (and every little boy’s) sport.
- Watching a baseball game in person is not for the easily amused. Watching a baseball game correctly requires an enduring attention span, expansive knowledge, passion for detail, serious conversation skills, the ability to relax, and a love of peanuts and hot dogs. It does not require a lot of loud music, flashing lights, or constant scoring. By the way, hot dogs are called hot dogs for a reason. Mustard is required and ketchup is totally inappropriate.
- Baseball is about hope, optimism, faith, and anticipation. Nevermind that every season ends (speaking for Mariners fans) in disappointment. Hope returns every spring. There is never any doubt: this could be the year!
- Baseball is clearly eternal because it transcends time and space. There is no clock. The game ends only after every side has had their last chance. And there are no dimensions. Bases may be 90 feet apart, but outfields can be whatever shape their owners wish. The Houston Astros have a hill in their center field.
- And lastly, my very favorite thing about baseball… Every batter’s ultimate goal is to come back home.