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Baseball: My Pastime

                                                                       courtesy of eskoyouthsports.org


Growing up, I have always loved the sport of baseball.  I love baseball because it is engrained in the fabric of my family.  My dad was one of my coaches until I stopped playing.  He was always around to play catch, or throw some batting practice.  And now, we compete every year in fantasy baseball.  So even after my playing days were done, my dad and I still bond over the game.  My grandfather was a baseball fanatic.  I remember he always had my stats ready for me.  After every game he would come by and tell me anything I wanted to know.  He was the analytics department for Knox Electric little league team, long before there ever was one for the Boston Red Sox.  I’m actually pretty sure that he kept everyone’s stats.  I guess that is where my love of fantasy sports comes from.  My brother and sister played baseball and softball, my cousin played baseball, a ton of my friends played baseball.  When summer came around it was all about baseball.  The kids would be on the field, my dad would be coaching, my grandfather would be taking down all the stats on his chair by the fence and the rest of the family was in the stands.  My mom, aunt and sister (if she didn’t have her own game) would all be attendance.  They never missed a game and would always be there cheering us on.  Looking back, my mom, aunt and sister probably didn’t always want to be watching baseball but there they were, in the stands supporting us.  There was one more person that was always in the stands, my grandmother, the coolest person ever.

My grandmother aka Granny aka Gran O’Mac was a special woman.  Some of my earliest baseball memories are with her.  She wouldn’t hesitate to come play wiffle ball with us kids.  You could even say she taught us the game of baseball.  Granny was often in the back yard with my cousin and me throwing batting practice or just messing around.  When my little brother was older, he’d join us in our baseball adventures.  My grandmother was there playing with us when we were little and when we were older she was out there as our head cheer leader.  Throughout my high school playing days, Granny would go to as many games as possible.  Not going to lie, I think she is a legend around some of these local ball parks.  Gran O’Mac is a first ballot super fan hall of famer. 

Some of my favorite memories as a child were the car rides to a baseball tournament.  My mom’s Chevy van would be packed with people and baseball equipment.  I can vividly remember exactly where everyone sat in the van.  My dad would always be driving, my grandpa had shotgun, Granny would sit in the middle with one of us kids and my mom would cram in the back with the other two kids.  These rides would be filled with conversations, laughs, and from time to time some arguments.  At the time I didn’t realize that I’d cherish these memories for the rest of my life.

It wasn’t long ago that the whole family went to Pope Park to play a “friendly” game of softball.  Pope Park has a place in my heart because my family basically grew up there.  Matter of fact, my grandfather’s name is displayed on one of the baseball diamonds.  We all gathered there to play a little family softball.  My grandmother didn’t play obviously, although I bet if she could, she most certainly would have.  Even though she wasn’t able to get on the field with us, she still participated.  She was the entire audience section and an awesome one at that.  Didn’t matter what team you were on she was rooting for you to win.  She loved her family and wouldn’t dare take any favorites.  Not only would she cheer for both teams, she cheered for every individual person.  You could be her kid, her grandkid, some random person we brought that day it was all the same.  It was all love.  That was my grandmother she loved us more than anything.  She was always there for anyone who needed her and she was there with a smile on her face.  I couldn’t have asked for a better grandmother.  Miss you Gran.

P.S. my team won that game…

My family taught me about the great sport of baseball.  I guess that’s why I feel confident enough to write an entire article trying to explain why you should too. 

Baseball has begun to slide down the ladder when it comes to the major sports in America.  Fans are leaving the sport behind as they flock to the others.  On the surface I can understand why sports fans are not as interested in baseball as they used to be.  There is a lot of standing around, there are a ton of games, and there isn’t a whole lot of physical contact.  This is all factually correct but I believe people harp on these surface characteristics because they are not educated in the beautiful nuances of America’s Pastime.  If people watched with an open mind and actually learned what it takes to be successful in baseball I believe more fans would gravitate to the game. 

Let’s start with hitting.  Hitting a baseball may be the hardest thing to accomplish in all of sports.  When you are swinging a round stick at a round ball, the chances of making solid contact are not high.  There is a reason why the best to do it only succeed 3 to 4 times out of 10 chances.  Whenever a batter heads to the plate they have a plan, some sort of an approach.  If there is a runner on second base with no outs, the person at the plate will try to hit to the ball to the right side of the diamond.  Here is a scenario…your team is down 1 run and there is someone on third base with less than 2 outs…what should you look to do?  Hit the ball in the air as deep as possible.  That way even if the outfielder catches the ball the runner will score the run.  Hitting the ball out the ball park is a different wonder all together.  Sometimes I don’t think people understand how awesome it is to have the ability to hit a ball 500 feet.  There is no better sound than the crack of the bat when you know the ball is long gone.  A massive home run can either send the crowd into a frenzy or it can silence one.  When you start to get a better understanding of how difficult it is to hit in the MLB, you can’t help but gain respect for these athletes.  The skill that they possess to be able to hit at such a high level is truly remarkable.

When I was younger I was a catcher.  I love the position and it takes a tremendous effort to be good at it.  Because I was a catcher I always had front row seats to watch the pitcher.  Pitching is an art form that takes intense focus and consistency. Have you ever thrown a pitch?  If you have then you know how difficult it is.  Throwing strikes, mixing up pitches, and keeping the batter of balance are just some of the factors that make a good pitcher.  Fans don’t understand why a pitcher will throw a fast ball high in the zone when they are in a 0-2 count nor do they fully get why any pitcher would throw a curveball that doesn’t even reach the plate.  It is all about throwing a pitch that the batter isn’t ready for even if that means you don’t throw a strike.  Pitchers have to masters in deception.  They do that in a few ways.  Sometimes it is a funky delivery or arm angle.  And others do it but mixing up their different pitches at just the right time.  When a pitcher is in the groove and dealing (dealing is a term used when a pitcher is performing very well) it is as awesome to watch as anything in sports. 

I love going to watch baseball games live and in person.  There may not be a better experience in all of sports.  I don’t think the PR team for the MLB showcases this enough.  Games are mainly played during the summer months, so it’s usually gorgeous outside when you attend a game.  Many critics of baseball love to mention the length of a game.  They may be right.  Baseball games are long.  In fact, they average about 3 hours per matchup.  But when you buy tickets to an event don’t you want your money’s worth?  Of course you do!  Three hours hanging in the sun and watching a professional sport with your friends or family is not a bad thing.  Even if you’re not a sports fan you can chat, relax, have a hot dog, if you’re old enough you can enjoy some beers and enjoy the summer day.  Night games are great too.  The weather is nice and the night sky is beautiful when it mixes with the lights of the stadium.  I love developing rituals when you go to games.  Mine is that I always grab an Italian sausage on my way out.  Whether it’s an afternoon game or a night game it’s nice to be outside.  Summer weather, hot dogs or Italian sausage, beer and friends…how can that not be a great time?  Before you even ask, I WILL go to a Sox game with you. 

I’ll be the first to admit, baseball has its flaws.  I’m not delusional.  I understand why the general public does not watch the sport as much as they once did.  I love the sport of baseball and I want nothing more than to see it thrive again.  This is a list of improvements I think would drastically improve baseball’s popularity:
1.  MLB need to develop a HBO Hard Knocks type of show.  Millions of eyes tune in once a week to watch an NFL squad prepare for the upcoming season.  Every year, HBO takes a crap bag team and makes them look like a well-oiled machine.  A show like that can create narratives for the season and get casual fans familiar with players. 
2.  Major League Baseball NEEDS to implement a pitch clock.  They have been testing a pitch clock in the Minor Leagues and it has reduced the average time of the game. 
3.  Players’ should rock signature cleats more often.  When I was a kid I wanted to wear the Griffey Jr Swingman’s more than anything.  I think it adds to a player’s popularity.
4.  Remove all defensive shifts.  More hits equals more excitement and it is just lame to be honest.
5.  Widen the strike zone to get away from the 3 true outcomes (strike outs, walks and homeruns)
6.  The baseball community as a whole needs to start embracing celebrations.  The old crusty fans should forget about the “unwritten rules of baseball.”  Bat flips, pitcher celebrations, and dare I say a little taunting will only add to the fun of the sport. 
7.  MLB needs to evolve with the times.  Fans consume sports differently than they used to.  If baseball had its own version of NFL’s Red Zone, fans could enjoy baseball and have the slower moments removed.  Other than Patriot games, I can’t remember the time I watched a single game over the Red Zone channel. 
8.  Get the stars into the public eye.  Not many people know who these guys are or what they stand for.  If fans felt like closer to the athletes’ popularity would skyrocket.

It is no secret that I love baseball.  I love going to see it live, I loved playing it, and as you can tell from this article I love talking about baseball.  Baseball has lost some of its popularity but I believe that it can regain the fandom it has lost.  It really is a great sport and it is my hope that sports fans take the time to learn some of the nuances.  MLB should hire me to be their chief support strategist.  My job would be to go around the world and talk about baseball.  Maybe I could take my family too.  Probably wishing thinking, okay definitely wishful thinking but it is fine.  Baseball is like an onion, there are many layers to go through.  Oooh that was a good last line…

 Follow me on Twitter @Matty_wests1de…we can talk about baseball if you’d like

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