Baseball and Timelessness

Major League Baseball has made unprecedented efforts to put new rules into effect in order to hasten the pace of play, beginning this upcoming 2018 season. One of the primary means, which seems almost likely to occur at this point, is the introduction of a pitch clock.

Supposedly needs to appeal better to today’s youngsters, we have heard a bunch of assertions thrown out into the discourse. There’s too much standing around. Nothing’s happening. We need more action. It has to be more like basketball or football. Like feeding raw meat to a pack of ravenous wolves. The thirst for action cannot be quelled.

Let’s wipe the foam from our chins, take a few deep breaths, and talk, for a second, about why baseball works in the first place. Close your eyes and take yourself back to that moment when watching something happen in a baseball game gave you chills. Very often, it is the walk-off hit. Maybe it was a home run, and you were at the stadium, immersed in the sea of crazed humans. Or maybe you were alone in your living room, screaming at the TV, “Yeah mother fuckers, that’s how we do!” to burn off that insane adrenaline. Ok, freeze that moment.

Did the “action” have anything to do with your elation? Only circumstantially, right? I mean yes, if your guy pops out instead of hovering, no good outcome means any good feeling. But if your guy homers in the bottom of the ninth in a blowout, you feel nothing. Same exact physical feat. But nothing.

Baseball is all circumstance and build-up. It has never been predicated on “action”. Baseball’s best moments are the time between pitches. Yeah, I’m talking about the time that thinks that fans think that they want to cut down to nothing. Picture this scenario.

The bases began empty, much as the heart of the hopeless fan whose team is down 6 going to the bottom of the ninth. It starts off with a 10 pitch grinder at bat leading to a walk. Then maybe a bleeder through the hole vacated by the second baseman who was rushing to cover on the steal attempt. The mind starts churning. What if? Nah, we’re still down by 6.

Double up the gap. Nice. Pitcher’s forgot how to throw a strike. A couple of kids in the stands turned their rally caps on (shown by the TV cameras while the catcher walks out to the mound). It’s that time between pitches, that supposedly empty time that the little details of a baseball game needs. The tension that makes baseball what it is, needs that time.

And he lines it up the left-center field alley! Three runs are in. Tying run is at the plate. For the last twenty minutes now, you’ve been pacing the living room. What are the chances the rally won’t fall short? If you’re a Met fan like me, the answer to yourself is always “zero”. But that nagging feeling, that “what if every dog has his day?” feeling keeps you glued. Here comes the pitch… (Breath held)…exhale. Average at bat length is what, 4 pitches? That’s 4 waiting with baited breath. Nothing happened. But nothing certainly did not happen.

It’s why baseball works on the radio. All that time (yes, that terrible thing we have to endure) to paint the lurid picture. The sweat dripping down the pitchers face. The infielders drawn in, tapping at their gloves. The crowd roaring and chanting. And here comes the pitch!

Freeze that moment. Aren’t we now at the apex of our anticipation? The end result may be exultation or gut-punched dismay, but that is not the product of the ball being put in play. If the rally were rushed along, with the help of say I don’t know, a pitch clock, what if we never got to see those ten year olds turning their rally caps on? What if we didn’t wait with baited breath for twenty minutes leading up? What if we weren’t forced to wrestle the self-doubt that comes with our team’s hapless fortunes? In other words, what if the camera joined the action of a tie game, bottom of the ninth, right as the first pitch was being delivered to the first batter of the inning. What if that pitch was layered over the wall? Game over. Walk-off win.

No build up. No adrenaline. No chills. No bond between man and team. So why are we so concerned with trying to limit the time where “nothing” is happening? Why is some trying to rip out of the game, the very essence of what makes it great?

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