Sloan Column: Play ball! Baseball is finally back
It’s no secret – I love baseball. I especially love my Cubbies, but I simply can’t get enough of America’s Pastime. My subscription to MLB-TV will attest to that. While others binge-watch Netflix, I’m more than satisfied to ride the cushions for hours watching inning after inning after inning after inning of change-ups and sliders, double plays and dingers.
Yes, it is still and always will be America’s Pastime. Simmer down, all you NFL and college football fans. Don’t be haters. You have a right to your opinion, but your opinion is wrong. Swinging a wooden cylinder at a leather-sewn sphere from 60-feet, 6-inches away and trying to “hit it where they ain’t” makes for the greatest sport to have ever been invented. Nothing comes close.
I would listen to your opposing arguments, but I presently have my earbuds cranked up as I listen to Terrance Mann (a.k.a James Earl Jones) wax poetic on the glory of baseball in the film, “Field of Dreams”:
“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It's been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time.
This field, this game - it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and it could be again.
Oh, people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come.”
You’ve got that right, Terrance. As sure as Teddy Ballgame was the greatest hitter to ever dig his cleats into a batter’s box, Americans will always be drawn to the baseball diamond.
Baseball is back, and it’s back with fans in the stands. Real people packed the stadiums – well, packed may be a little extreme – and replaced those silly cardboard cutouts and canned applause used last season. On the north side of Chicago, there were real bums in the bleachers, washing down bags of peanuts with overpriced beer all the while happily watching their boys take on the visiting Pirates.
It’s early April and hope springs eternal.
Not a single team has been eliminated from the playoff race. Every player on every team suits up thinking this is the year we win it all.
World Series aspirations are alive and well in every clubhouse, or at least they should be.
Yes, baseball has seen some changes over the years. There’s more focus on analytics, WAR, launch angles and exit velocity (Thanks, Bill James and Billy Beane). There’s the designated hitter, of which I am not a fan. We’re seeing more teams employing “the shift,” or moving all of your infielders to one side of the diamond or the other, to defend against certain players. At some point this inane strategy will be proven fallible and slowly fade away like a foul ball soaring in the Boston breeze just to the right of Pesky’s Pole.
But, Mr. Mann was right. Baseball always has been the one constant. By and large the game has remained the same. Bases are 90 feet apart, the pitchers’ mounds 60 feet, 6 inches from the plate, nine players on the field at one time. Hit, pitch, field and throw — at least in the National League, where it matters most.
And the game is never too long. Every game, be it a rain-shortened six innings or a 17-inning marathon, is just long enough. If you enjoy baseball, you know it lopes along, rarely in a rush. Maybe it seems different from when we were kids, when there were fewer teams and we watched minor league players who belonged in the bigs but never could get past the numbers game.
Simpler times then, but baseball remains a simple game, which doesn’t need to be squeezed until silly numbers spill out of it.
The first great baseball moment I can remember is when the “Miracle Mets” won it all in ’69. Being a Cubs fans, that’s a season I’d very much like to forget, but it remains etched in my memory.
Every year, every single year, I count down the days from the final out of the World Series in October to the sound of an umpire barking out the first called strike on a brand spanking new season. This particular offseason lasted longer than it took Bartolo “Big Sexy” Colon to round the bases after his first-and-only Major League homer. Time doesn’t move much slower, trust me.
Opening Day fell on April 1 this year – no joke. I wore my new Javier “El Mago” Baez jersey to work (Dress code? What dress code?). I brought with me my cap, my well-worn mitt and a baseball. I spent the afternoon editing stories while listening to Pat Hughes and Ron Coomer call the game on WGN Radio. The Cubbies sleepwalked their way to a 5-3 loss to Pittsburgh. No flying “The W” or singing “Go Cubs Go!” this opening day, but that’s okay.
Baseball is finally back.
Contact Editor Bob Sloan at www.florencenewsjournal.com.