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Baseball: The Greatest Sport in America, and maybe the World
Yankee Stadium, the house that Ruth Built. Fenway Park and the Green Monster. Wrigley Field and the Ivy covered fences. Hallowed halls, walked by the greats of the game and revered by many. Some even consider Baseball to be a religion of sorts, as evidenced in the great Baseball movie Bull Durham starring Kevin Costner and Susan Sarandon. Hollywood obviously feels Baseball is one of the great sports having made such films as Bang The Drum Slowly, The Babe, The Natural, Field of Dreams, For Love of the Game, and of course A League of Their Own. Lest you think Hollywood favors only the "feel good" movies, let it be known they do not shy away from the slightly darker side of Baseball. Movies such as The Fan, Eight Men Out, and Hustle which show the underbelly of the beast. Yet we still love the game, and recognize these individuals that show us they are only human after all. And humans make mistakes.
But we still love the game. Perhaps no other sport has as much anticipation, to the point where even those who merely enjoy the game in passing still count the days until the pitchers and catchers report; the first Grapefriut games; the first pitch of the season, a season that still offers up the opportunity of perfection. The young players within the team that are struggling to make a difference, to make the Team. Last year saw two heralded youngsters, Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals and Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels capture the imagination of the country. Both barely 20 years old and doing things no one could believe of them.
The belief that your team still has a chance, whether they be the Chicago Cubs, those "lovable" losers who have the longest losing streak in sports championships, spanning 104 years, or the defending World Champions San Francisco Giants. Imagine Chicago: your team the Cubs haven't won a championship since the 1908 team, yet every spring you have hope. Maybe, this is the year. To the general public: are you aware that the famous poem that details the greatest double play combination in history came from the Cubs? Tinkers to Evers to Chance were forever immortalized in Franklin Adams poem "Baseball's Sad Lexicon". Even such a club as the Cubs are rendered famous in the sport.
Football is all about brutality, violence, pain. The speed with which they play is amazing, but the anger associated with it is fearful. Perhaps this is why it is gaining in popularity: the violence. We are becoming a civilization based in violence: in schools, in sports, in games. Violence abounds. Baseball is about grace, and reverence and hope. Soccer is, well, I am not sure. A bunch of people running around in shorts kicking a ball back and forth for hours on end without a winner. Fights break out occasionally, and violence in the crowd sometimes overwhelms the play on the field. Are the spectators so bored that they fight with each other to liven up the day? Perhaps; I don't know. Hockey is the same thing, only the players are cold so dress up in heavier clothing. The fighting takes place on the ice, and the crowd loves it. Brutality. Anger. Violence. This is a sport? Basketball is the American sport, created by Dr. James A. Naismith in 1891. For years, it was my favorite sport, although I was not talented enough to play on a school team, but I played a lot in the pick up games of the day. But today it has become primarily an inner-city sport, played by those of whom I perceive to be thugs, hoodlums, gang members. The attitude, tattoos, and makeup of the sport make it one that the majority of Americans no longer play. In addition, the game has changed so much, from playgrounds to high schools to universities to professionals. It is no longer the game I grew up loving. There are so many fouls not called; traveling not called; the physical play approaches that of football at times. This is not the "non-contact" sport it once was. Golf is nice, but as Mark Twain once noted "Golf is a good walk spoiled." 'Nuff said.
But baseball is no longer simply an American sport; it is world wide. Name another sport where Japanese, Canadian, American, Dominican, Venezuelan, Puerto Rican, Korean, Cuban, Taiwanese, Chinese, Mexican, and more enjoy the game together. Together. Truly, Baseball has crossed boundaries that include cultural, ethnicity, and monetary obstacles. Anyone who works at it has a chance. Think about it: there are 30 teams, and the draft lasts 40 rounds. That is 1,200 people drafted each year into the league. There are the minor leagues, several different levels for each team that support the Major Leagues. Does any other sport support itself in such a manner? Nope. Not one.
So it is loved, it is available to any and all, it is played across the world. In short, it is the best sport out there; at least to me. I know the detractors will point out the perceived "rampant" cheating that goes on in Baseball. To a point, I agree. But who is pure, who has not been tainted by the stain of PED's? Truth be told, football is rampant, yet receives less attention and testing. We have just seen cycling dragged through the mud; I do not know if hockey or soccer is tested; nor basketball. I fear all sports have been spoiled with this disease, yet Baseball has received the majority of the attention. Why? Because it is seen by more people, and they are trying to clean it up in order to restore the faith in the players and in the sport itself.
Name another sport that heralds the past as much as Baseball does. Another sport that holds dear the records of past deeds, those of DiMaggio and his streak; of Ty Cobb and his toughness; of Cy Young and his wins; and yes, of Pete Rose and his hits. Charlie Hustle was if not a hero of mine, at least one I looked up to. He never had the best talent, the best natural gift to play a game such as a Ken Griffey Jr or a Cal Ripkin; rather he worked. Hard. He was known for his hard nosed efforts long before he was known as a person who bet on baseball. Another I loved to watch play for the pure enjoyment was Ozzie Smith, the Hall of Fame Shortstop of the St. Louis Cardinals. He opened every season with a back-flip to show the fans how much he enjoyed playing the game.
The Game. We love the Game. Baseball, we welcome you to another year of promise, of hope, of dreams.