It’s Time For Baseball, So Tune Out That Background Noise

Sit on the sofa and watch ESPN for only five minutes, and you’ll be struck by the diversity of sports that captivates this country.
It’s a little annoying at times.
The major league baseball playoffs are awash with drama, but on America’s major sports news channel baseball is treated like a customer at a busy fast-food restaurant. Take a number. Wait your turn. First we’ve got to tell you about the big college football games coming this weekend. And then we’ll fill you in on the latest dish on Kobe Bryant. Yes, we know NBA basketball hasn’t started its regular season yet, but we know you’re breathlessly awaiting your Kobe fix.
And stay tuned, of course, for LeBron times twenty.
OK, now that we’ve covered that … Here’s two minutes on the Tigers clinching their AL playoff series with Oakland. Watch the screen carefully because … yep, here it comes … here’s that feature we promised you on what’s happening these days with New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.
This is not to disparage ESPN (I can do that anytime I feel like it, and often do), but what it calls to mind is the way things USED to be in the wide world of sports. When I was young, there was no round-the-clock TV coverage of sports, and there didn’t need to be. Back in your father’s day, there were only a few major sports that vied for his attention. Baseball, football, basketball —maybe some hockey if he didn’t grow up in Iowa, like I did —and intermittently (only intermittently, mind you), a little boxing news when there was a major fight afoot, and some racing stuff coinciding with the Indianapolis 500 and the Kentucky Derby.
Ah, it was so much simpler then. But now, the sporting public has such diverse tastes, you can hardly digest the news on any one sport before you’re being forcefully transported somewhere else, like a patron strapped to a roller coaster.
And this is what especially annoys me during the baseball playoff season.
Back in my dad’s day (there I go dating myself again), there was time for a self-respecting sports fan to follow the natural rhythms of baseball, which is not as visceral as NFL football but — at this time of season — is far more intense if you know how to follow it.
Nowadays, they say that baseball is a regional sport. NFL football is a national sport.
Which would mean that the widespread fascination with baseball is far from what it used to be. There really are only two major league teams that are interesting enough to enough of America’s fans these days to merit national TV coverage during the regular season. And you know which two they are. I guess I’m one of the few who enjoy baseball enough to be saddened and upset to be force-fed a steady diet of just two teams —the Yanks and Sox —throughout their 162-game regular season schedules.
But now that the playoffs are here and baseball’s best teams are being featured on a nightly basis, I fear that America — hopelessly preoccupied with its fascination of prima donna NBA players and the like, and literally overloaded with so many other sports candies — continue to miss appreciating the ongoing mini dramas that is playoff series baseball.
Watch a little of the Tigers-Red Sox AL championship series this week, and the Cardinals-Dodgers NL championship series. I mean, really watch it. Learn to appreciate the drama of a 3-2 count with a runner on second base and two out in a 2-1 game in the bottom of the seventh inning. Try to read the minds of the managers as they move their players around like knights and rooks. Second-guess them as they call for a bunt when you think their No. 6 hitter — who hits .347 with runners in scoring position — should swing away.
I was told once by a die-hard baseball fan that nothing is better in sports than to mind-meld with the action on the field. No, not the home runs — any ol’ fan can appreciate the homers. I’m talking about the pitch-by-pitch drama, the game within the game.
The real baseball fans know that there is genuine drama and anticipation with every pitch. And every pitch carries its own realm of possibility, dependent upon the count, who’s on base, the position of the fielders, who’s on deck, who’s warmed up and ready in the bullpen … and so on.
The casual sports fan only understands who throws the most touchdowns, who has the prettiest slam-dunk. But there’s so much more to baseball, especially this time of year.