A golden oldie from the flat files…
Since I had that brutal deadline this week, Wednesday night was the first time I was able to go to a Minnesota Twins game during the season opening series at the Metrodome. The Lovely Anna took daughter Gabrielle (13) on Monday and son Thomas (10) on Tuesday, while I took daughter Victoria (14) to witness a sweep of the Baltimore Orioles to open the year. Daughter Elizabeth (17) doesn’t give a hoot about the Twins, but I forgive her because of the whole autism thing.
I love baseball. Even though in the last few years it’s been tarnished by the strike, questionably legitimate home-run races and steroid scandals, I think it’s still far and away the pro sport most worthy of admiration and attention in this country.
Pro basketball and pro football, in my opinion, lack the kind of sportsmanship, mutual respect and sense of fun from both players and fans that baseball enjoys. It seems to me that fans of these sports don’t care if their star players are little more than thugs as long as it means they beat the other teams and give them bragging rights. Too many athletes in these sports demonstrate poor sportsmanship and enormous egos and are not held accountable. I can’t even watch a pro basketball game anymore… there is more whining going on the court than in your average pre-school class. In football the most average of players taunt the other team and celebrate routine plays like they just single-handedly won the Superbowl. Not all of them act that way of course, but it’s getting harder to find players who respect the game they play and the people who play against them. Pro hockey I don’t know about, but I was never into hockey.
Baseball is different. Baseball players seldom showboat and always seem to respect the opponent. With rare exceptions, there is a general level of sportsmanship in baseball that often seems to be missing from the other big pro sports in the US. Why? I think partly it’s because of the enormous length of the baseball season. With 162 games, it’s a marathon and the mental aspect of the game is far more important than emotion and aggression. Players have to stay more even-keeled in order to survive the schedule. However I think the main reason baseball is full of far more humble and grounded players is the process of becoming a major league player. In basketball and football, players are heavily recruited in high school for college programs, complete with the rubbing of egos and the promise of riches, and enter the pro level with million dollar contracts directly to pro teams at even lower draft levels. These kids are taught at an early age they are more important than everyone else… no wonder once they get in the pros many act the way they do.
With baseball, it takes years of toiling in the minor leagues until a player makes it to the majors… if they ever do. Athletic talent and physical prowess are only a part of being a baseball player. You have to develop your instincts for the game with many thousands of hours of minor league service and practice. It’s not glamorous and there is no guarantee you will emerge as a major leaguer. The vast majority do not. You have to earn it. I think after that kind of trial and the commitment needed to endure it, major league players have a lot more humility and appreciate their “making it” more than most basketball and football players who often seem like they are doing their sport a favor by playing, rather than the other way around.
Yes, baseball has a few players like Barry Bonds, who is a role model for no one. Still, the overwhelming majority of players respect the game and the players around them, as well as the fans.
Baseball is also more of a social game. It’s a slow building of tension as a game progresses, but you can go to the bathroom and get a hot dog without missing out on too much, and you can talk with your neighbors as the action unfolds. The game works on many levels, with the casual fan able to enjoy a game as well as someone who knows the intricacies of the sport. Some people call it boring, but I think it’s just more laid back, requires patience and a good sense of the game.
Hopefully baseball can fix some of what’s wrong with it so the game will continue to stay healthy and prosper. I’d like to think one day I can tell my grandkids and great grandkids about baseball back in my day, take them to a game and teach them how to keep score while we enjoy an ice cream cone on a sunny summer day.
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