Back in 2014, I suggested that we watch baseball (and sports in general) because we’re waiting for that “one perfect moment” when everything comes together. And in the meantime, I said, we fill time with “Holy shit, I’ve never seen that before.”
That’s true as far as it goes, but there’s something else at work here.
Naturally, HSINSTBs are a superset of “That’s never happened before.” In that earlier post, I mentioned the grand slam to tie a game in extra innings, something that has only happened once in 140 years. I’m sure everyone who was there was excited to find out later that they had witnessed history. In the moment, though, the important thing was the grand slam. Viewers got to experience the dramatic comeback, and only later found out about the larger context.
I’d argue that baseball is unique in its ability to provide that sort of dual pleasure. (It’s also unique in its ability to provide an endless assortment of “first ever” happenings that only a stat-head could love–“With that hit, he’s got the most doubles on a Tuesday by a right-handed batter over the age of 50”–but let’s not go there today.)
Consider basketball and hockey. Neither one is really geared toward the unusual. The ball or puck moves from one end to the other, there are passes and shots, and sometimes a penalty of some sort, but there’s not a lot of variation. While you’ll occasionally get an unusual event that can be appreciated in the moment (a goalie scores a goal, an outrageously long buzzer-beating shot that goes into the basket), most of the unique events are those statistical ones.
Football is somewhat better, but still, the linear nature of the game, the short seasons, and the focus on a few stars restricts the possibilities. There, the events fans remember aren’t so much unique as unusually dramatic examples of something that happens every game. Ask a 49ers fan about “The Catch,” for example. The truly unique seems to require outside intervention. “The Snowplow Game.” “The Stanford Band.”
Baseball, though, isn’t linear; the game moves around and around instead of back and forth. And, as I’ve said before, any player could be the day’s hero or goat–and that 162 game schedule gives them all plenty of opportunities to take center stage.
Baseball gives us the dramatic moment we only appreciate later (say, Nelson Cruz’s 482 foot home run Friday night, which turned out to be the longest home run ever hit in Tropicana Field). The totally unique (Saturday’s Rays’ double play*). And the small, personal, first ever moments (pitcher Andrew Albers, getting a single and an RBI in his first major league at bat Monday night).
* Briefly: Tropicana Field has catwalks hanging from the roof of the stadium. Some of them are over the actual field, and a ball that hits one of those is in play. On Saturday, Mike Zunino bounced a ball off one of the catwalks. Rays’ shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria not only caught the ball to retire Zunino, but threw it to second in time to double up Guillermo Heredia. The first time the catwalk has been involved in a double play. Of course there’s video.
Yes, all of my examples feature Mariners’ players. Those are the games I watched–but that’s my point: if you can’t find something to be excited about in every game–other than who won or lost–you’re not trying.
Five weeks left in the season. Roughly 555 games remaining (around 37 games for each of 30 teams). That’s a lot of little stories. And all of them are far more encouraging than anything you’ll find in the front section of your newspaper. Just sayin’.
See you at the ballpark.