Baseball’s offerings are endless—especially in spring
It’s that time of the year when everyone’s making predictions about what to expect in 2021. Our man in the stands posts this dispatch from somewhere in the National League, just before today’s first pitch.
I don’t know what’s going to happen. Anything might happen that can.
Of course, not just anything can. I’ll never see a quadruple play or even something so straightforward as a tie. But within the friendly confines of the rulebook, the possibilities are more than enough.
Enough for what, exactly? I guess that depends on what you want. Sometimes I want a win for my team, pure and simple. It won’t matter how interesting, or skillfully achieved, or closely contested, or sunny to bask in: I’ll take it ugly. In cases like this, the final score alone will matter. But such cases are, for a spectator like me, mercifully rare. What’s the good in being concerned with the W only? That’s for gamblers, and even then only the most rudimentary kind.
No, I want something more. Something worth being here for. So what does that look like? I can’t tell you exactly, though I don’t mind your asking. It might be worth thinking about.
I can’t always tell you in advance what I’m looking for because it changes from day to day, and even pitch to pitch. One moment I may want nothing more than the distracting murmur of the radio while I clean out the closet. Tomorrow I might be watching with a young fan who needs to see some classic plays suitable for illuminating the rulebook (and for filling up memories of a happy day spent together). One time I might have packed my bags carefully and travelled across time zones to watch Opening Day with my brother (as we did for years until 2020 upended us), but otherwise I may just mean to catch a half inning or so.
It’s also fair to say that my hopes are layered and messy, cut from scraps both cherished and ephemeral. All things being equal, sure, I’d like my team to notch that victory. But I have qualifications: I don’t want a win for a win’s sake, not on a botched call at the plate—well, unless it’s a truly interesting, one-of-a-kind play. And not (usually) in a lopsided game that makes us wish there were a slaughter rule. Not if it includes an injury to a player I’m partial to. Not if a win for me breaks the heart of the kid in from out of town to see their team in person for the first time. Winning’s not worth that much.
I can’t even imagine all the things I might see if I give the game time. Like anyone, I’ve got my bucket list of a typical fan’s hopes: a triple play, an inside-the-park homerun, a hitter going for the cycle, a perfect game. Such are the obvious rarities, but also possible (and possibly more valuable) are unquantifiables—like a Minor League call-up getting a hit off the bench, a spirited argument with the umpire, a fielder redeeming himself with an RBI right after making an error. It’s enough to make me hate to head to the bathroom, for fear of what I’m sure to miss. And leave the park early? I knew a guy who missed the extra innings of “The Carlton Fisk Game.” The reason doesn’t matter; that could be anyone, any time.
Let’s be honest: a spectacularly bad play is worth almost as much as a spectacularly good one, and once my team starts committing lots of errors part of me wants them to keep going and set some kind of un-record. And of course, one man’s error is another man’s scoring opportunity.
Outside the lines, a fellow fan might say or do something noteworthy. I jot those on my scoresheet along with other pitches and hits, since they’re even more necessary to record—they don’t appear anywhere in the official stats or the archived streams. Like the time my buddy started curating oddly shaped peanut shells into a “Mutant Peanut Museum” at a minor-league game in Clinton, Iowa. Or maybe it’s just the Bud Light that makes that kind of thing funny.
Some of what we might see today we can’t possibly interpret yet—like how this rookie might be playing the first innings of a Hall of Fame career. Or not. I guess we’ll have to wait twenty years and see.
So it’s not only now, at the beginning of the season, that I don’t know what’s going to happen. It ain’t over till it’s over, you know, and that rule operates at every scale, from a single swing to a new pack of cards to a franchise’s entire history. The unknowns remain delightful right up to the last out, and even then they don’t end. Of course, the unpleasant unknowns remain too. Some poor guy might be getting the last at-bat of his career, or it could be the last day he’s lucky enough to ride the bench. Someone in the stands might be getting a text with bad news. Someone else didn’t even make it to the game. They’ll be missed.
But first pitch is at 1:20, so take me out to the ballgame. You never know what might just happen.
Jon Boyd is the academic editorial director at InterVarsity Press, where he also acquires and develops books in history and culture, the social and physical sciences, and the professions. His writing has appeared in Baseball Research Journal, The Common Review, Fides et Historia, and The Encyclopedia of Chicago.