I’ve never tried to deny the fact that I’m a keen athletic supporter. There’s really nothing I find more fulfilling than watching a group of young men (or young women now, in our more progressive times) running, bending and stretching while working together as a team to rise to the crescendo of victory. It nearly takes one’s breath away, or at the very least sets the pulse pounding and the cheeks blushing. I’m not too particular even when it comes to sporting activities, though clearly anyone who enjoys American football is an imbecile.
I suppose if I had a gun to my head and were being forced to choose only one sport to watch for the rest of my life (a position it’s unlikely I’m ever to be in, I’m aware), I’d have to negotiate with my captors for a pair of favourites, cricket and baseball. If, after a short deliberation which may or may not include a phone call to “Mister Big,” they insisted I choose only one, I’m afraid I must plump for baseball, if only because of the importance it played in my childhood and because, when it comes to wood, I prefer to see a man holding a long, thin one over a man with a short, wide one.
Since I’ve been in England, a day hasn’t passed when I haven’t been asked to explain the rules of baseball. I have and will continue to refuse to do so. Explaining the rules of baseball to English readers is like explaining the rules of cricket to Americans; each one is so complicated, it takes a real clever clogs (such as I) to understand them. I mean, look at the Australians—they’ve been playing cricket for a good number of years, and they still haven’t grasped the basic rules.
Instead of focusing on how to play, I’d rather share a few more important aspects of the sport of baseball, as we near the opening of the season over in the US.
A baseball field is in the shape of a diamond because baseball is considered the sport of kings and everyone knows kings like diamonds. Technically, I suppose it’s really a square at an angle (with a base at each corner), but we mustn’t quibble. A grassy area extends beyond the top of the diamond; this is where outfielders (generally considered weaker players or those who drink excessively) are banished as most of the action takes place primarily between the bases. The importance of the bases is, of course, key to baseball. I think it’s common knowledge all over the world that a man who can get past first base, second base, third and then goes all the way is an extremely satisfied man.
Baseball players are an interesting breed. They are extremely superstitious as a group and many of their personal playing rituals involve the grabbing of their, shall I say, areas. Many players need to clutch their (or a teammate’s) crotch at least once or twice before even getting to the plate. (I once dated a catcher who refused to even get out of bed without first giving his jewels a tug). One less pleasant feature of baseball players is their penchant for spitting. You can’t be in the presence of a shortstop without his spitting at least once every 2.4 seconds (this statistic is based on credible research as well as my own personal observation). The spitting fetish is undoubtedly tied to the early baseballers’ faith in the medicinal properties of tobacco, which they would chew in the misguided belief that it gave them superpowers (this myth remains despite the discovery of anabolic steroids). Interestingly, a baseball player is allowed, nay, encouraged to spit anywhere and everywhere within the ballpark, except on the ball itself (italics added). If he spits on the ball, it is considered an ironically named “spitball,” and that fucker is thrown out of the game.
Baseball has created a number of debonair heartthrobs and wacky characters over the years whose legacies have endured. Superstar Babe Ruth, of course, married Marilyn Monroe and later went on to invent a candy bar. “Shoeless” Joe Jackson changed his name to Ray Liotta and starred in a number of major motion pictures. Joe Dimaggio was immortalized in the Simon and Garfunkel song, “The Boxer.” Yogi Berra, a profoundly intellectual player and manager, later became known the world round for his hilarious pic-a-nic basket hijinks in Jellystone Park. I look forward to meeting the characters who will be swinging their bats and popping their flies this season.
Finally, the thing that I love most about baseball is not the complicated rules, the action on the field or the tight trousers of the players, but it’s the atmosphere of a baseball game that I find so delightful. The way the fans encourage their local team and offensively abuse both the opposition and the umpires is so heartwarming. Of course, everyone joins in during the “Seventh Inning Stretch,” where those who have managed to stay seated for much longer than beer consumption should have allowed can stand up, stretch their legs, nip to the toilet, and sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” There’s a real sense of camaraderie in baseball stadiums when everyone comes together to support all that is good about America. Who wouldn’t love such a relaxing and friendly environment? It’s fun for the whole family.
To all those oiling up their gloves and dusting off their jerseys in preparation for Opening Days all over the country (most of which are bound to be called off due to bad weather), I take my cap off to you. Enjoy your day and root, root, root for the home team for if they don’t win, it’s a shame though they will have at least 161 more opportunities so quit your crying, pussies.