Baseball = America

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Tim Stanley is a writer for the Telegraph in London. He went to his first baseball game the other day. Even though he referred to home plate as “fourth base,” he shows a far greater understanding of what baseball is all about than that dude who slammed it in his football blog yesterday.

And not just because he says smart things like “the rules are simple and any confusion is cleared up by more beer.”  He understands the zeitgeist of the thing, and makes some interesting parallels between baseball and the American psyche, at least as we like to believe it to be:

At face value, baseball’s an individualist sport because it’s all about the man at the bat. He swings, he runs, he’s in command of his destiny. But he’s also playing for the team, and sometimes sacrifices have to be made. If someone’s already at third base, the goal of the batter is to hit the ball far enough to allow his teammate to get to fourth – accepting that he’ll probably get taken out himself as he sprints to first. It’s a reminder that a necessary ingredient for the flourishing of the individual is the health and the wealth of the people around him. For you to succeed, others must succeed, too – and as with baseball teams, so with nations. We’re all in this together.

I don’t think our society always works that way. But I think we’d like it to.  At the very least it has before and will again. And I think baseball reflects it far more than the other sports do, even if other sports reflect how our society works in practice from time to time.

Javier Baez: “This is a game. It’s not as serious as a lot of people take it.”

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Infielder Javier Baez is back in camp with the Cubs after helping Puerto Rico to a second-place finish in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. He was the focal point of what was, to many, the most memorable play of the entire tournament: Baez pointed at catcher Yadier Molina, who was attempting to throw out a would-be base-stealer, before applying the tag for the final out of the eighth inning.

While Baez didn’t receive much criticism for his theatrics, aside from an insignificant handful of spoilsports, he is one of the players who most exemplifies the emotional, celebratory culture that foreign players bring to Major League Baseball. U.S. (and Tigers) second baseman Ian Kinsler is on the other side of that spectrum, as he said prior to the WBC final that he hopes kids mimic the solemn way U.S. players play the game rather than the emotional, passionate way players from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic play the game.

Baez isn’t about to apologize for the way he and his teammates play the game. Via CSN Chicago’s Patrick Mooney, Baez said, “We do a great job playing and having fun out there. That’s what it’s all about. This is a game. It’s not as serious as a lot of people take it. but, you know, everybody’s got their style and their talent. I have a lot of fun.”

He continued, “It’s their choice to look at how we play, how excited we get. To us, it’s really huge what we did, even though we didn’t win. All of Puerto Rico got really together. We were going through a hard time over there and everything got fixed up for at least three weeks. Hopefully, they keep it like that.”

Mike Trout proposes change to spring training umpiring

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Angels outfielder Mike Trout came up with an idea that would allow less experienced umpires an opportunity to call some major league spring training action. As ESPN’s Buster Olney reports, Trout thinks the veteran umpires should only call five or six innings as they get back into regular season shape. The rest of the innings could be called by minor league umpires.

According to Olney, baseball officials loved Trout’s idea when they heard about it last week. One official said, “It makes a lot of sense for a lot of different reasons.” Another said, “That’s Trout — he’s always paying attention to stuff beyond what he’s doing.”

Of course, I have to agree that the suggestion is a great one. As Olney notes, the turnover rate for umpires every year is relatively low, so younger, less-experienced umpires have few opportunities to get a feel for what it’s like calling major league action. Even beyond the actual interpretation of the rules, interacting with big league personalities would also be helpful for minor league umpires.