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Thursday, October 24, 2002

Wood, Leather, Grass, and Dirt

It’s a pastime—something you do—it’s entertainment—something you watch—and it’s a shared experience—something you talk about. And that’s marvelous but you can apply those three criteria to other things. What makes baseball so special is that it’s the best game that’s ever been devised.

--Robert Creamer

Right now the best game ever devised is having its championship. It's called the World Series. The games begin at five o’clock out here on the West Coast, something that recalls past eras when lots of baseball games were played during the day. I remember running home from school as a kid to watch the Series. The early games are not a nod to baseball’s past but a practical matter because both teams involved are from this West Coast. Starting the games while the sun is still shining out west is the only way to hit the TV prime time on the other coast.

Baseball is incredibly simple on one hand—you hit a ball and run around a diamond. On the other hand it is a game I have played and watched my entire life yet I still see things I’ve never witnessed before. No one who loves the game would ever say that it is slow or boring. Everything matters in baseball; even the pauses are calculated and loaded with strategy.

As I start to write about baseball I am overwhelmed by memories starting from earliest childhood. I grew up in a Catholic neighborhood so getting enough kids for a game was simply a matter of walking outside with your glove, ball, and bat. We would start early in the morning on summer days and we wouldn’t even stop for lunch. We’d play baseball and variations on the game like these:

500 One guy would hit balls to kids in the outfield. You would get 100 points for catching a pop fly and 25 for fielding a grounder. If you dropped a ball points were subtracted (and you got laughed at). The first one to 500 won and then got to bat.

PICKLE The classic game of a player being caught in a run-down between bases. If you have an extra kid as a back-up baseman proper procedure assures an automatic out, but with just two basemen it was more interesting. Invariably the base runner got bonked on the head with the ball.

BURN OUT Two kids stand about ten feet apart and throw the ball at each other as hard as they can. I probably learned something valuable about something from playing Burn Out. I got more than a few lumps on my head and many fat lips from this fun game.

CATCH If I had a nickel for every hour I have spent playing catch in my life I would own all of Major League Baseball. Catching and throwing things is a very American thing in sports. If you doubt this, try playing catch in a foreign country where they don’t play baseball. I guarantee that the locals will stare in astonishment at your skill. Have you ever watched those Palestinians kids throw rocks at the Israelis? What a bunch of weenie arms. Send over a little league team and the Israeli Army would surrender under a barrage of fastballs.

The Mariners didn't make the play-offs. My other favorite team is whoever is playing the Yankees. To say that I was happy to see the Yankees get beat in the post season is an enormous understatement. I don't think I have felt that good since Apollo 13 returned safely to earth. When people ask me who I like in the Series I just say that I want to see it go to seven games. I like to see the season dragged out for as long as possible. Maybe the seventh game can go into extra innings and last all through the winter. Theoretically it could happen. There is no time limit in baseball.

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