Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Way of the Game

If you had to tell me that as far as scheduling and "when are you going to sleep?" questions come in that today would be the closest I would get to not getting a blog entry in back a month ago when I started this new "blogaday" I wouldn't have called you crazy, because that's a cliché, but I would have been surprised. If you told me when I finally got up around noon this fact, I would still have been taken aback. I blame the little leaguers! I was waiting to watch Around the Horn and Pardon the Interruption to spark some sort of topic for the "anthropology of sports." In the end, because the Little League World Series is still cluttering up ESPN at that time, I had to wait until the end of the Rays' game. Look at me, grumpy old man at 20, putting down twelve-year-olds.

Think about the different ways a sport impacts a person. In basketball a dunk is an impacting play to watch, but actually has very little influence on a game. In football, a great play can be made defensively that ends up mattering very little, but often times the "ohhs" and "ahs" for offensive greatness results in at least the field position for a field goal. In baseball, home runs are great but the "hardest" play that is still regularly turned is the triple--I put "hardest" in scare quotes because when it comes down to it, most every triple can be linked at least partially to bad fielding, if the outfielder was on the ball, maybe he doesn't get to it, but he keeps you on second--and yet you can get stranded there on third base.

While I will mention as an apology the "anthropology of sports" should be and will be in the future about my own investigations into international sport as well as a heightened interest in something like hockey (and basketball too, but that I have been watching more than usual which has allowed me to think about it more, which is why I've already dropped in a none too original idea about the sport that I've gathered), but I can't give you that right now and since the college semester is starting up I won't be able to give you that any time soon. I'm just going to be able to burn off the last past tomorrow night and maybe Friday morning, hopefully making it nice and long and beautiful close to this self-indulgent activity of making too long blog posts on a blog no one reads for not even a calendar month but at least 31 consecutive days.

Tonight, or rather the night that officially ended three minutes ago, as it went on midnight in the eastern states, I watched the Rays win a game in the bottom of the tenth inning against the Tigers on a beaten out fielder's choice play, where Sean Rodriguez was lucky enough to have the play for the out come to second, where he could get to the base first. If Brandon Inge had run to third or made the throw to first, chances are the game would have gone on into the eleventh inning, and chances are, in my opinion, the Rays would have eventually lost, what with having just lost two close until the end games to the Tigers. So I got to thinking about the way that individual plays can impact games. In baseball, as I've illustrated, a play that turns out to really just be bad luck on the third baseman, who doesn't exactly do anything wrong (although I would claim the throw to second was a bad decision, there was no error or bad hop or something that literally happened to bring the game to this end), can end a game and elicit the team's celebration.

In football, of course, you can have the equivalent of the walk-off, with the last play of the game scoring or the sudden death overtime and in basketball you do have the buzzer beater, but nothing quite corresponds to baseball, where if you are going to win, in extra innings, you are going to do it in style. Because a win in extra innings in baseball does not compare to football's field goals to win the overtime (a rule that the NFL is considering changing and has changed for post-season, but hasn't been tested yet, since no playoff games have gone into overtime since the rule change). It's always great. No matter how you do it. A buzzer beater at the end of a basketball game is, in my opinion, one of the hardest plays in that sport: at the most tense point in the game you have to accomplish what virtually any sport is ultimately about, scoring! Whereas the baseball play can be anything, even something as simple as a mistake by an infielder or a ball through the legs and you have something that'll make the papers and probably Baseball Tonight.

For me, this goes along with what baseball really is. Because it's about getting screwed over by the human element just as much as it is about getting the human flaw in your favor. No one is going to say that they react the same way to a blown call that benefits them as they do to one that hurts their team unless they are going to lie. And baseball is the land of blown calls, where even the balls and strikes are variant from game to game and everyone looks for an umpire who simply calls them "consistently" rather than correctly because no one gets it right. I've said before (maybe even here!) that baseball umpires are the worst in major sports in the US and they are, but ironically that's exactly what you would expect from the game. It fits perfectly with the fact that a simple bad choice of where to throw the ball can lose you the game as well. Not a bad throw...a bad throw can lose the game in pretty much any sport that involves throwing, but a bad choice. Inge fires the ball down to second base without much difficulty, it just so happens that Sean Rodriguez has gotten a better than average jump on the play and has hustled his way into victory.

It's a quirk. The kind of thing that someone who writes a frequent feature on his or her blog like this is going to be inclined to liken to life itself, where you can feel like you're tied but playing well one minute and without making any mistakes you can have lost the next, but I'm not going to do that because it's a cliché, I'm simply going to mention it as a cliché and leave it be. ;) What this really has to do with is baseball. Not life. Being the oldest of the major American sports, baseball finds itself as the most conservative, which gives it that feel of old time humanity, working with your hands in your blue collar. It shows, it actually does, even today when replay makes its occasional appearance in the game so terribly dominated by the men in blue (not the Cubs!), the pure age of it, the way that when something doesn't go your way you simply have to smile, shake it off, or not, but that's all you can do. Shake it off. Keep playing or get off the field. All the while thinking, "That's baseball."

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