April 2, 2008

The Best Day of the Year

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In honor of the opening day of Major League Baseball, I decided to take a little time out to recall why a game that only requires a wooden bat, a small white and red-stitched ball, and a leather glove (not steroids) keeps fans coming back for more each April.
Opinions about baseball can generally be separated into two distinct, predictable camps. One dugout contains the loyal fans that maintain that baseball is and will always be “America’s favorite pastime.” However, the naysayers adamantly proclaim that baseball is the most painfully boring sport on earth and that they would rather watch professional bull riding than Major League Baseball.
As a child I loved going to baseball games, not because I was a five-year-old aficionado, but because ice cream in a Phillies helmet is probably the best dessert a girl can get for $4.50. Pricy, yes, but more than worth it. I wasn’t particularly interested in the actual game, per se, but I loved screaming at the top of my lungs and eating all the junk food my Dad would agree to buy just so he could watch the game in peace.
You see, the thing about baseball that all the Negative Nancys are forgetting is that it’s more than just a game. Going to a baseball game is an event. A typical outing starts with a little tailgating in the parking lot so that you are at the stadium early enough to catch batting practice. Then, of course, you grab a couple hot dogs (if you’re lucky it’s dollar dog day) and some drinks and find your seat. It doesn’t even matter what seat you have because you can enjoy the game even if you only bought the “cost-effective” standing-room tickets.
When the game finally starts you are excited and ready to see how the starting pitchers will match up. Even if the game gets off to a slow start, there is plenty of activity on and off the field in the form of mascots and stadium vendors to keep you entertained and satiated. Of course, if the game is intense and both teams (or just your favorite team, cough…the Phillies…cough) are hitting well, you are anxiously anticipating the thundering crack of a player hitting a homer, or even better, a grand slam. What’s more, if you happen to be sitting in a lucky seat you could get in on the action and catch a ball. Just don’t be that jerk sitting in the front row who snatches the ball right out of a player’s awaiting mitt.
Then, there is always the seventh-inning stretch, which is an opportune moment to pretend you are stretching and laugh at any drunken buffoons who happen to be embarrassing themselves in your vicinity. Just after the stretch is probably the best time to buy the already-infamous “ice cream in a hat” or any other sweet frozen treats that will offset all the deliciously greasy hot dogs and fries you scarfed down in the first three innings.
Another great thing about baseball, is that while it is thrilling at times, at other times you can take a short food or bathroom break and not lose track of the entire game. Some people may consider this aspect the downfall of the sport but those people clearly need to chill out. Baseball is, by far, the most social sport (only rivaled by football) because you can eat, drink, make merry and watch the game at the same time. Although the point is always to win, even if your team doesn’t quite measure up you can still have a blast. Trust me, I know, because the Phillies don’t win as, err, consistently as one might hope.
Up until now, I’ve been describing the benefits of live baseball, which are numerous, if not infinite. However, baseball on TV is an entirely different animal. I will allow that watching baseball on the tube is not exactly the most high-powered experience. Still, if you go to a couple games and follow your team even a little bit, catching the game in your living room is great way of saving a few bucks and beating the pre- and post-game traffic. I highly recommend acquiring high-definition capabilities because you can actually see every single bead of sweat on the pitcher’s forehead. It’s also great if you don’t have the time to park your butt on the couch for three or more hours because you can do other things and check in on the action periodically.
Admittedly, baseball is not a sport of constant edge-of-your-seat intensity. However, that may be one of its biggest selling points. In the heat of baseball season, who doesn’t appreciate the chance to sit back, relax and take in a game? Baseball is the great American pastime because that’s exactly what it is, a pastime.