Allow me to get romantic about baseball.
Not quite like Carlos Correa popping the question to girlfriend Daniella Rodriguez on national TV romantic, but in the same vein.
If you’ve been following me this season, you’ve noticed I have a, um, propensity to get heated about certain things surrounding baseball.
But just for one column, let me be positive, and allow me to tell you about the wonders of baseball.
Baseball gets a lot of flak. Maybe because it doesn’t lend itself to the hot-take artists who get paid for highfalutin opinions, or maybe because its pace of play or length “issues” don’t lend themselves to the high-octane, instant gratification of today’s sports climate.
Maybe because it’s the elder statesman of the four major sports, or maybe it’s the inherent strategy and “difficulty” in understanding its deeper concepts.
But here’s the truth: The “please like my sport” people on Twitter generally don’t understand, and the “baseball is boring” folks don’t get it either. This isn’t a new concept, though. Hall of Fame manager Leo Durocher said it best many, many years ago: “Baseball is like church. Many attend, few understand.”
See, this isn’t about making people like baseball. It’s not about converting die-hard fans of other sports to run out to the local sporting goods store to buy jerseys and lawn chairs and bed sheets of their favorite teams or players. Rather, it’s to help you understand.
Baseball isn’t just about the highlights or the hot takes. It’s about the heart.
The “human element” is a thing that certainly exists in the sport; for 250 days out of a year, 25-plus knuckleheads take the field for three-plus hours at a time, sometimes deep into the night, to jump on a plane, travel across the country and do it all again the next day.
What draws some — and hopefully most — to baseball is that human side of sport. Advanced stats and sabermetrics are overtaking the sport (and with good reason on a performance level), but numbers seldom paint pictures of a player’s struggles, road to redemption or elation of victory.
AJ Hinch with his family. Love this. pic.twitter.com/5gG6WPJ8s5
— Ryan Fagan (@ryanfagan) November 2, 2017
That side doesn’t reveal itself solely with winning the World Series. It shows itself all during the course of the year in baseball.
In the Yankees’ clubhouse after Masahiro Tanaka’s stellar ALCS Game 5 performance, Todd Frazier walked over to Tanaka and gave him a monstrous bearhug, and they both shared a hearty laugh. The tension of a pivot game seemingly didn’t end with the win on the field, but with the embrace in the clubhouse.
Before another ALCS game, Matt Holliday was on the field hitting grounders to two of his sons. Imagine that: Two kids taking fielding practice on the field at Yankee Stadium, and a father — let alone a baseball player — taking the time out of a hectic playoff schedule to spend time with his kids.
These are typically moments you don’t see in other sports. This is why some longtime fans are drawn to the game — not simply for the flashiness of an upper-tank home run or a cannon throw from third base foul territory. Baseball is an 162-episode TV season of twists, turns and sometimes dead air. But it’s a show you watch because you get to debate the characters, the merits of personality, the issues and thrills with friends and fans alike.
But the seeming distaste for the game doesn’t end with prospective fans.
What I’ve found from watching and covering baseball consistently this year is that some folks who cover it seem to have lost that child-like wonder about it. This isn’t to call them out, however. A job is a job. But there’s something special about following a team learning to jell together — or learning to lose together. There’s something about following teams that nobody expects anything from, and teams destined to win it all.
Much like Robin Williams in “Hook,” they’ve grown up and left Neverland behind, forgetting how to fly or enjoy the simple things. Hopefully you found me to be your Rufio (or Tinkerbell, if you prefer).
Yes, baseball is a grind to watch and to cover at times. No, baseball doesn’t have the inherent violence or athletic thrill of other sports. But what it does have is heart. It’s got soul. Maybe baseball doesn’t lend itself to new-school social media blasts and technology. And with many fans, that’s perfectly OK.
Baseball is taken in by the heart, not just the eyes. There is a reason, after all, that baseball skies above stadiums in April can be the most wondrous sights, and that they elicit such strong feelings of nostalgia and hope — and, sometimes, heartbreak.
There’s a reason that perfectly manicured grass and the smell of ballpark hot dogs in May anchor us to “better times.”
We could argue the health of baseball and the support it’s gotten over the past decade or so. Whether steroids tainted the game. Whether the ball is juiced. Whether Bryce Harper is a jerk (he’s not, by the way). The reason we argue is because we’re passionate. We care.
Thanks, baseball, for sticking around for 150 years and still giving fans things to debate, in a silly game about a dude with a ball and another with a stick trying to whack that ball over a fence. Thanks for giving us human moments, such as Bartolo Colon swinging out of his helmet, or Carlos Beltran bawling after Wednesday night’s Game 7 World Series victory.
Like Brad Pitt said in “Moneyball”: How can you not get romantic about baseball?
Maybe there’s a coincidental link between a diamond engagement ring — something that signifies a lifetime promise of happiness, and sometimes distress — and a baseball diamond.
Then again, it might not be coincidental at all.