Living in the mountains at this time of the year is not particularly conducive to thoughts about baseball—after all, the warm, lazy, hazy days of summer are still a “mud-season” away. But Easter has come and gone, the Final Four has thrilled us again, and even though there’s still wax on my skis, the first pitch of the 2002 baseball season has been made.
It’s been argued that when compared to the other major spectator sports, baseball is too slow and uneventful to be interesting; but I wholeheartedly disagree.
The NFL, NBA and NHL may offer the casual fan more action during any given game, but to fully appreciate baseball, one must experience it over a full season. We may wolf down a fast-food meal, but one does a terrible disservice to a gourmet dinner and a fine bottle of wine if it is not leisurely savored.
The raucous crowds attending an NFL playoff game, an NBA Final or a Stanley Cup reverberate with excitement—but baseball evokes emotions quite dissimilar from any other sports, and no season builds in anticipation so slowly, or breaks a heart like baseball.
Unlike those other sports, no team vies for a .800 winning percentage. I believe it was conservative political columnist George Will who opined, “In baseball the very best team wins three and loses two—the very worst team wins two and loses three—and somewhere between are the other 28.” Check last year’s standing in the NFL and you’ll see that five of the thirty teams won 5 or fewer games and one team, the Carolina Panthers was victorious only once! So just how exciting is that?
Baseball fans understand that a pitch in baseball is tantamount to a ‘down’ in football. The strategy with runners on first and third in a tie game in the third inning with one out and the count on a left handed batter with a left handed pitcher of 2-1 may be completely different than the identical situation in the eighth inning—it’s the difference between 3rd and 1 and 3rd and 15 in a football game.
Basketball has a time clock and teams either stress defense or play up-tempo; football has one basic strategy—“establish the running game;” and hockey has four rules (no two line passes, the puck must enter the offensive zone ahead of the offensive player, icing the puck isn’t allowed at full-strength, and don’t get caught by the referee trying to maim your opponent.) But baseball is a chess match played by superior athletes—if you doubt that, just ask Michael Jordan how difficult it is to hit a curve ball.
Want a further illustration? How closely do the NBA and NHL All Star Games or football’s Pro-Bowl resemble the regular season? They don’t! Each of those games is one-dimensional with strategy being conspicuously absent. However, baseball’s All-Star Game with its pitch-by-pitch strategy unmistakably reveals the multi-dimensional aspect of the game.
So for those who want to catch a ballgame on some sunny afternoon or a pleasant summer evening, the following are ten fail-safe tenets of the game that once understood will not only increase your pleasure as a spectator, but will impress the fan sitting beside you the next time you’re at Coors Field.
- Umpires almost always offer a wider strike zone on the outside corners of the plate than the inside.
- The most dependable pitch in baseball is the fastball—and it will be used more than any other pitch in critical situations.
- The best counts for the batter receiving a good pitch to hit are the first pitch, 1-0, 2-0 and 2-1.
- Left-handed power hitters are usually good low-ball hitters—(Corollary: a very high fastball is frequently a good first pitch to throw a left handed pinch hitter who doesn’t want to fall behind in the count.)
- Right-handed power hitters usually like high fastballs.
- The hit-and-run only makes sense when the pitcher needs to throw a strike or get very near the plate so the batter feels he has a good pitch to swing at.
- The most likely batters a manager will use to execute the “hit and run” are the number two, three and seven hitters.
- Managers prefer that their number two and three hitters bat from the left side because the opposing first basemen often have to hold runners on base, thus opening a big hole between first and second, (see # 7—hit and run.)
- A player’s batting average increases by 75 to 100 points with the infield drawn in.
- The singular guaranteed certainty in baseball occurs when a catcher ‘sets-up’ on the inside of the plate with a left handed pitcher facing a left handed batter or a right handed pitcher is facing a right handed batter. When that happens, you can bet the ranch that the next pitch will be a fastball—no questions asked.
So slow down and enjoy the national pastime yourself—prepare to take your family to the ballpark this summer or watch a Little League game. Maybe even bat the ball around a park with your friends or kids. But whatever you plan to do, remember, it’s time to…“Play Ball!”