The Crack of the Bat: Exploring My Love for Baseball

Just as the Phoenix Suns are in the middle of its playoff push with the acquisition of Kevin Durant, I am also keen on how the Arizona Diamondbacks prepare their season with a string of games held in the state.

The much-anticipated matchup between team captain Shohei Ohtani of Japan and Los Angeles Angels teammate and Team USA captain Mike Trout at the bottom of the ninth inning at the World Baseball Classic finals game was a real booster for the sport’s in the global stage.

The love for baseball can be attributed to several factors, including its rich history, strategic gameplay, and community-oriented nature.

I love baseball because it has been played at all levels, from sandlots at Waterloo Park in my neighborhood to Major League Baseball stadiums that pack 40,000 people. It has been a source of joy and entertainment for millions of people.

Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona in a game between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Colorado Rockies.
Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona, in a game between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Colorado Rockies in 2018.

Some people I talk to comment that baseball is boring and lacks the punch, like football penalty kicks or basketball buzzer-beaters. While that may be true, baseball is a sport that requires a great deal of strategy and critical thinking. It is not just a game of physical ability but also requires players to make split-second decisions and outsmart their opponents. Fans love to analyze the game, study statistics — there’s a ton of it — and analyze players’ movements to understand the sport better.

Fans often feel a deep connection to their favorite team, and attending games can be a social event that brings people together. Whether it’s tailgating before the game, cheering on their team from the stands, or discussing the game with fellow fans, baseball provides a sense of camaraderie and belonging.

Personal history

I have been a fan of the Phoenix Suns since the 90s. But during the 2017 NBA offseason, when the Suns missed the postseason for the seventh straight year, I started watching the games of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The Suns’ rebuilding featured the selection of young players like Josh Jackson and Davon Reed in the NBA draft and signed experienced veteran players like Tyson Chandler and Jared Dudley to mentor and guide the young core.

Additionally, the Suns made a bold move to trade away their starting point guard, Eric Bledsoe, in exchange for a package of assets, including a first-round draft pick who later netted the team Mikal Bridges. Other than that, it was an underwhelming offseason from a series of failed playoff hopes.

My attention shifted to the D-backs, whose postseason drought also ended that year. They were good enough for the National League to secure a wildcard spot. That game, against the Colorado Rockies, has become a hallmark in the team’s history, in a turbo-charged offensive juggernaut.

As I learned more about the roster, notably All-Star Paul Goldschmidt, starting pitcher Zack Greinke, and an aggressive Archie Bradley, I liked their chances as they overcame the Rockies furious counterpunch in a classic wildcard game. Although the Los Angeles Dodgers eventually outmatched them, I was sold on the team and joined the D-backs bandwagon.

Brief history of baseball

Baseball is a sport that has its roots in 18th century England, but it was in the United States that it became the popular game we know today. The modern version of baseball can be traced back to the mid-19th century, when it was played in various forms nationwide.

The first organized baseball game was played in 1846 in Hoboken, New Jersey, and the first official rules were established in 1857 by the National Association of Base Ball Players. By the late 1800s, professional teams were forming, and the first fully professional league, the National League, was established in 1876.

In the early 1900s, baseball became the most popular sport in America, and its popularity continued to grow throughout the 20th century. The sport saw many iconic moments, such as Babe Ruth’s record-breaking home runs and Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in 1947 when he became the first African American player in the major leagues.

Baseball remains popular in the United States and many other countries, with Major League Baseball (MLB) as the top professional league. The MLB comprises 30 teams, with players worldwide competing for the World Series championship yearly.

We also watched the game between the Seattle Mariners hosting the San Francisco Giants at T-Mobile Park.
We also watched the game between the Seattle Mariners hosting the San Francisco Giants at T-Mobile Park.

The beauty of baseball

The simplicity of the game

While baseball may seem complex to those unfamiliar with the sport, it is a relatively simple game. The game is played on a field with four bases arranged in a diamond shape. Two teams take turns at bat and in the field, trying to score runs by hitting the ball and running around the bases.

The basic objective of the game is for the batting team to score runs by hitting the ball and running around the bases, while the fielding team tries to prevent the batting team from scoring by catching the ball and making outs.

The simplicity of the game can be seen in its rules. For example, there are only nine players on the field at any given time, and each team gets three outs per inning. The rules are designed to keep the game fair and balanced, focusing on strategy and skill.

While baseball may seem complex with its many rules and strategies, at its core, it is a simple game that people of all ages and skill levels can enjoy. The basic objective of the game is easy to understand, and the rules are straightforward, making it a great sport for both casual fans and serious players alike.

The strategic nature of the game

Baseball is a sport that requires a great deal of strategy and critical thinking. While the game’s primary objective is simple, the tactics and techniques players and coaches use can be complex and sophisticated.

Getting her 15 seconds of fame at Chase Field billboard.
My wife is getting her 15 seconds of fame at Chase Field billboard. #letsgodbacks

One of the key strategic elements of baseball is pitching. Pitchers must have good physical skills, such as speed and accuracy, a deep understanding of the opposing team’s lineup, and the ability to adjust their pitching strategy based on the situation. Pitchers must also work with their catchers, like Greinke’s partnership with Jeff Mathis in their Diamondbacks careers, using signs and signals to communicate which pitch to throw.

On the other hand, the batters must also have a good strategy. They need to be able to read the pitcher and anticipate the type of pitch that will be thrown. They must also be able to adjust their stance and swing to hit the ball in the right direction and with enough power to get a hit or even a home run.

In addition to pitching and batting, the game has many other strategic elements, such as field positioning, base running, and defensive plays. Coaches play a crucial role in developing and executing these strategies, making strategic decisions about when to bring in a pinch hitter, steal a base, or create a pitching change.

The strategic nature of baseball makes it such a fascinating sport to watch and play. It requires physical ability and mental acuity, making it an actual test of skill and strategy.

The pace of the game

Baseball is often criticized for being slow-paced compared to other sports like basketball or soccer. However, many sports fans appreciate baseball’s deliberate and thoughtful pace. The introduction of pitch clock rules on pick-offs, shifts, and runners in scoring position on extra innings, was aimed at making the game more exciting without dragging it for too long.

One of the reasons baseball is a slower-paced game is that there is no time limit on innings or the game as a whole. Unlike other sports where the clock dictates the game’s pace, baseball proceeds at a pace determined by the actions on the field.

Another reason for the slower pace is that there are breaks between each pitch and between innings, allowing players time to rest and strategize. This also gives fans time to analyze the game and discuss strategy with fellow fans.

Despite its slower pace, baseball can also have moments of intense excitement and action, such as a close play at a base or a home run. The tension and anticipation that build up during these moments add to the game’s drama.

Baseball’s pace may be slower than other sports, but it allows for a more deliberate and strategic game that many fans appreciate. The pace also allows for moments of intense excitement and drama that make the sport so thrilling to watch.

 

The Thrill of Baseball

The unpredictability of the game: Baseball is a sport where anything can happen. No lead is safe, no game is over until the final out is recorded, and no player is guaranteed to succeed. This unpredictability can create excitement and tension, as fans and players alike never know what might happen next.

The individual moments within the game: While baseball is a team sport, it is also a sport where individual moments can be the difference between winning and losing. A clutch hit, a game-saving catch, or a strikeout to end a threat can create unforgettable moments that thrill fans and players alike.

The history and traditions of the game: Baseball has a rich history and many traditions that add to the thrill of the game. From the crack of the bat to the smell of freshly-cut grass, baseball can evoke feelings of nostalgia and connection to the past that make the game feel even more special.

The emotional connection to the game: Baseball can create an emotional connection between fans and players unique to the sport. Whether it’s the hometown hero hitting a game-winning home run or the underdog team pulling off an upset, these moments can create a sense of pride and joy that can be difficult to replicate in other sports.

The anticipation of the World Series

The World Series is the championship series of Major League Baseball (MLB) and is one of the most highly anticipated events in sports. Here are some of the reasons why the anticipation for the World Series is so high:

The World Series marks the end of the MLB season and is the culmination of months of hard work — and 162 games in a season is much longer than 82 games of the NBA or NFL’s 17-game regular season —  and dedication by the players and teams. Fans have followed their favorite teams throughout the season, and the World Series represents the ultimate reward for the players and fans alike.

The MLB playoffs leading up to the World Series are filled with drama and excitement as teams battle to make it to the championship series. The stakes are high, and every game is crucial, making the playoffs one of the most exciting times in baseball.

The World Series has a rich history dating back over 100 years, and the practice of the Fall Classic has become an integral part of American culture. Fans are drawn to the past and prestige of the World Series, which has produced some of the most iconic moments in baseball history.

The World Series is a best-of-seven series, meaning that anything can happen throughout the series. Perhaps only surpassed by NCAA’s March Madness upsets, favored teams losing to wildcard entries are not uncommon, and momentum can shift quickly, making every game a must-see event.

The anticipation for the World Series is high due to the culmination of a long season, the excitement of the playoffs, the tradition and history of the series, and the unpredictability of the games. These elements create a sense of excitement and anticipation that makes the World Series one of the most thrilling events in sports.

The exhilaration of watching your favorite team win

Watching your favorite team win can be an exhilarating experience that is hard to replicate in other aspects of life.

Fans often deeply connect to their favorite sports teams. They invest time, money, and energy into following their team and connecting with the players and the franchise. In my case, I’ve invested in three D-backs baseball caps, and watched two live games in Phoenix, thanks to Joanne and Jorge Baysa. When the team wins, it can create a sense of pride and joy that is hard to replicate in other aspects of life.

Winning is always exciting; when it happens with your favorite team, it can be even more thrilling. The high competition stakes, the drama of close games, and the thrill of victory can create an adrenaline rush that is hard to match.

Watching your favorite team win with other fans can be a bonding experience. Fans can share in the excitement and joy of victory, high-fiving and cheering together as they celebrate the win.

I once walked at Sydney’s Pyrmont Bridge on my way to work in my black Diamondbacks cap, and noticed a dude walking in the opposite direction putting on a different shade of the same team’s cap. We nodded, smiled and flashed thumbs up, acknowledging that we don’t see a lot of other Diamondbacks apparel in public at least in our location.

When your favorite team wins, it can feel like a personal victory. Fans often feel like they played a part in the win by supporting the team throughout the season, and this sense of accomplishment can be deeply satisfying.

Watching your favorite team win can be an exhilarating experience that is hard to replicate in other aspects of life. The emotional connection to the team, the thrill of victory, the shared experience with other fans, and the sense of accomplishment can all contribute to the excitement and joy of a win.

The Lessons of Baseball

The importance of teamwork

Baseball is a team sport, and teamwork is essential for success on the field.

Every player on a baseball team has a specific role to play, and each player must understand and executes their role effectively. Whether it is a pitcher throwing strikes, a fielder making a crucial catch, or a batter getting on base, each player’s role is essential for the team’s success.

Baseball requires constant communication between players. This includes on-field communication, such as signaling pitch types and locations, and off-field communication, such as team meetings and strategy discussions. When outfielders scramble to catch a blooper or line drive off a fastball pitch, a sense of understanding happens even in non-verbal communication on the field.

Trust is essential for successful teamwork in baseball. Players must trust their teammates to execute their roles effectively and make the right decisions on the field. This trust helps build confidence and allows players to focus on their responsibilities without worrying about their teammates’ actions. When Archie Bradley, a relief pitcher/closer with no track record of hits, surprised everyone with a triple and 2 RBIs, it was the trust of manager Torrey Lovullo who put him in the spot to help generate runs. (Unfortunately, Bradley also yielded back-to-back home runs in the following frame.)

Baseball requires collaboration between players to succeed. For example, a batter might need to sacrifice his at-bat to advance a runner, or a fielder might need to work with a teammate to make a double play. Collaboration helps maximize the team’s strengths and can lead to greater success on the field.

Baseball requires individual players to understand their roles and execute them effectively while also collaborating and communicating with their teammates to achieve success on the field. The importance of teamwork in baseball extends beyond the game itself and can help players develop important skills that are useful in other aspects of life.

Random statistics and contract value

The Diamondbacks recently signed rookie outfielder Corbin Carroll, highly touted to win the National League rookie of the year, to a 9-year $134 million contract. The offer to secure his services for close to a decade came from a plethora of statistics gathered. His contract is the largest guarantee for a player with less than 100 days of major league service.

The MLB has a vast range of stats to measure different aspects of the game, including batting, pitching, and fielding performance, as well as advanced metrics that attempt to provide a complete picture of a player’s value. These stats range from basic measurements like batting average and earned run average to more complex metrics like weighted runs created plus and defensive runs saved. They evaluate players, compare teams, and inform strategic decisions.

For hitting, traditional stats such as batting average, home runs, and RBI still play a significant role in determining contract value and likelihood of making the team. However, more advanced metrics such as on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and weighted runs created plus have become increasingly important in recent years, as they provide a complete picture of a player’s offensive value.

For pitching, traditional stats such as wins and ERA are still used, but more advanced metrics like FIP (fielding independent pitching) and WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) have become increasingly important in recent years, as they provide a better measure of a pitcher’s performance that is independent of their defense. Ultimately, a player’s contract value and likelihood to make the team are determined by a combination of these different stats and factors such as their age, experience, and injury history.

Some of the statistics that are lesser known, in my opinion:

  1. BABIP – “Batting Average on Balls in Play.” It measures a player’s batting average only on balls hit into the field, excluding home runs and strikeouts. The statistic helps evaluate a player’s luck or skill in putting the ball in play.
  2. FIP – FIP stands for “Fielding Independent Pitching.” A pitching statistic measures a pitcher’s effectiveness based only on the factors they can control: strikeouts, walks, hit-by-pitches, and home runs. It removes defense and luck from the equation.
  3. wOBA – wOBA stands for “Weighted On-Base Average.” A more advanced version of the on-base percentage weights different outcomes (e.g., a double is worth more than a single). It is designed to better capture a player’s overall offensive value.
  4. DRS – “Defensive Runs Saved.” It measures a player’s defensive value in runs above or below average. It considers factors such as range, arm strength, and the ability to turn double plays.
  5. ISO – “Isolated Power.” A statistic measures a player’s raw power by subtracting their batting average from their slugging percentage. It measures how many extra bases a player gets per at-bat.
  6. UZR – “Ultimate Zone Rating.” It is a defensive statistic that measures a player’s ability to catch balls hit in their vicinity compared to the average player. It considers factors such as range, arm strength, and the ability to turn double plays.
  7. RAR – “Runs Above Replacement.” It measures a player’s overall value compared to a replacement-level player. It takes into account both offensive and defensive contributions.
  8. OPS+ – “On-Base Plus Slugging Plus.” It is a statistic that compares a player’s OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) to the league average, adjusted for park effects. It measures a player’s offensive value relative to the league average.
  9. RC –  “Runs Created.” It is a statistic that measures the number of runs a player contributes to their team’s offense. It considers a player’s hits, walks, and other offensive contributions, as well as the base-running ability of themselves and their teammates.

The value of hard work and perseverance

In baseball, as in many aspects of life, hard work and perseverance are essential for success.

Hard work and perseverance can help players develop the skills and abilities needed to succeed in baseball. This includes physical skills such as hitting, pitching, and fielding, as well as mental skills such as concentration, focus, and resilience.

Baseball, like life, is full of obstacles and challenges. Players may face injuries, slumps in performance, or tough competition. Hard work and perseverance can help players overcome these obstacles and push through difficult times.

Hard work and perseverance can also help players build character. These values teach players the importance of dedication, discipline, and persistence, which can translate to other areas of life, such as education and career.

Ultimately, hard work and perseverance can lead to success on the field. Whether it is winning games, achieving personal goals, or reaching the highest levels of the sport, players who work hard and persevere are more likely to achieve their desired outcomes.

Hard work and perseverance are essential values in baseball and in life. These values can help players develop skills, overcome obstacles, build character, and achieve success both on and off the field.

The lessons of failure and resilience

Baseball is a game that teaches the lessons of failure and resilience in many ways.

Batting: In baseball, even the best hitters fail more often than they succeed. A good batting average is around .300, meaning a player fails to get a hit in 7 out of 10. Learning how to deal with these failures and keep a positive attitude is essential for success in the game.

Pitching: Pitchers also experience failure in baseball. A pitcher may give up a home run, base on balls, or a big hit, but they must learn how to recover and focus on the next batter. Developing resilience and the ability to bounce back from setbacks is critical for success as a pitcher.

Fielding: Fielders can experience failure in baseball. They may miss a ball or make an error, but they must learn to put the mistake behind them and continue focusing on the game. This resilience and ability to learn from mistakes are essential for success in the field.

Teamwork: Baseball is a team sport, and the ability to work together and support each other is critical for success. When one player fails, the team must rally and support each other to overcome setbacks and continue competing.

Baseball teaches the lessons of failure and resilience through the challenges and setbacks players experience on the field. Learning how to deal with failure, develop resilience, and work together as a team are essential skills that can be applied to many other areas of life.

The Future of Baseball

The current state of baseball

In recent years, baseball has faced several challenges, including declining attendance, an aging fan base, and a lack of diversity among players and fans. However, the sport continues to be popular in many parts of the world, with a loyal and passionate fan base.

In 2021, baseball faced additional challenges due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The shortened 2020 season was played without fans in attendance, and many teams faced financial challenges due to lost revenue. However, in 2021, some teams welcomed fans back to the ballparks, and the sport continued to adapt to the changing circumstances.

The challenges facing the game

There are several challenges facing the game of baseball in recent years, including:

One of the significant challenges facing baseball is declining attendance at games. The average attendance at MLB games has been declining steadily over the past decade. Several factors contribute to this trend, including increased competition from other entertainment options, high ticket prices, and a lack of diversity among players and fans.

Baseball’s fan base is also aging, with younger generations showing less interest in the sport. MLB has been attracting younger fans by improving the in-stadium experience, expanding digital media, and promoting players on social media platforms.

Baseball has also faced criticism for its lack of diversity among players and executives. The league has addressed this issue by implementing diversity initiatives and increasing outreach to underserved communities.

Some fans and analysts have criticized the pace of play in baseball, arguing that the game is too slow and lacks excitement — thus MLB is changing the rules to address the issues. MLB has implemented several changes in recent years to speed up the game, including a pitch clock, limits on mound visits, and shorter commercial breaks.

Some smaller market teams, like Arizona, have faced financial challenges, struggling to compete with larger market teams, like LA Dodgers. Revenue sharing and luxury tax systems have been put in place to help level the playing field, but some argue that more needs to be done to address this issue.

These challenges are not unique to baseball, and the league continues to work to adapt and remain relevant in a changing world. The sport’s rich history, tradition, and passionate fan base provide a strong foundation for continued success. Still, it will require ongoing innovation and evolution to meet the future needs of fans and players.

The potential for innovation and growth in baseball

Despite baseball’s challenges, there is also significant potential for innovation and growth.

Baseball has always been a sport that relies heavily on statistics and data, and technological advances have made it easier than ever to collect and analyze data. New technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning could be used to develop even more advanced statistical models and player evaluation tools.

While baseball’s fan base may be aging, there is still significant potential for growth among younger generations. Initiatives encouraging youth participation in the sport, such as increased funding for youth leagues and more youth-oriented programs at MLB events, could help attract a new generation of fans and players. When I see the baseball game held at Marsfield Park (and Australia’s participation in the World Baseball Classic with wins against South Korea and the Czech Republic), I feel there’s a good chance of passing the excitement of the game into the next generation of fans and players.

Baseball has a strong following in the United States but is also popular in other parts of the world. Expanding the sport’s reach through initiatives such as international exhibition games and partnerships with foreign leagues could help to grow the game’s global audience. At the moment, the popularity of MLB’s international players comes from the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Mexico, and Venezuela, alongside Korea and Japan.

The in-stadium experience is an essential part of the baseball tradition, and new stadium designs could help to attract younger fans. Concepts such as smaller, more intimate stadiums and more interactive fan experiences could help to make the game more appealing to younger generations.

MLB has been working to improve its digital media offerings with more fans consuming content online. The league’s streaming service, MLB.tv, has become increasingly popular in recent years, and new digital media initiatives could help to reach a broader audience.

There is significant potential for innovation and growth in baseball, and the sport’s rich history and tradition provide a strong foundation for continued success. By embracing new technologies and initiatives and adapting to the changing needs of fans and players, baseball can continue to thrive in the years to come.

Conclusion

Baseball is a game that has captured the hearts and minds of fans for over a century. It is a sport that teaches valuable lessons of teamwork, perseverance, and the value of hard work. Whether you’re a die-hard fan or just getting into the game, there’s no denying the thrill of watching your favorite team hit a home run or make a game-winning play.

So, I encourage you to give baseball a chance. Attend a game, watch it on TV or online, and experience the excitement and thrill of America’s pastime. Learn about the history of the game, the legendary players who have graced the field, and the stories of triumph and perseverance that have defined the sport.

I also hope to be able to watch more live Diamondbacks games again and more importantly, for the team to win another World Series.

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