It’s baseball season, and that, friends, is the best of all seasons.
Baseball writers, who, given their love of a game that has historical weight over all other American sports, tend to be a poetic and sentimental lot, even more obnoxious than people who mark out over other sports. They’re not quite as obnoxious as football writers, but they make up for it with their wobbly rhapsodizing; they even manage to be more pretentious than soccer journalists, who have the added benefit of being European. It’s quite an accomplishment, when you think about it.
Anyway, one of the most cherished myths of the baseball hack is that baseball begins in the spring, the season of life, when the weather is changing and everything is growing, and this symbolizes the endless potential of humanity and something something oh the kids are all in the other room watching basketball on the big TV. As with most such eternal verities farted out by old white guys from the East Coast, it is total nonsense. Baseball actually begins at the end of winter, when pitchers and catchers report, and carries on into spring training, an egregious misnomer based on the fact that it is played exclusively in Florida and Arizona, which do not have seasons. Once regular games begin, it is April, and while that’s arguably the magniloquent springtime of journalistic legend in Texas and California, in the rest of the country, it’s still godawful cold weather. I went to opening day in Chicago for eight years in a row and it was a miserable slog every time, and for a week before this year’s White Sox home opener, it was apocalyptic. The first game at White Sox Park wasn’t notable for how badly the Good Guys got thumped, but for how it somehow managed to be sunny and clear and also 30 degrees with periodic blizzards at the same time.
A companion myth is that the excitement of Opening Day, which is really just attributable to the fact that the weather is becoming moderately less dreadful and that football is finally fucking over, is because “anything can happen” and “any team can win”. This is abhorrent nonsense. The San Diego Padres, for example, or the Philadelphia Phillies, were in essentially the same position on Opening Day of the 2016 season as they were on the last day of the 2015 season, and stand about as much chance of appearing in the playoffs come October as Manchester United has of winning the Stanley Cup. That’s not to say that the early goings aren’t interesting, of course; as a fan of the Chicago White Sox, I always enjoy watching Cubs fans hollering about how this year for sure they’re going to win the World Series come April 1st, and I also enjoy seeing what development (this year, it was the early career-ending injury of slugger Kyle Schwarber) what will make that result unthinkable by April 15th.
All of this is to say is that for all of our talk about how spring is the time of renewal, baseball doesn’t really start to matter until June at the earliest. It’s a game of summer. Of course I’m excited about baseball; of course I’m going to watch every White Sox game on TV and go to the ballyard as often as I can. There’s even some exciting early-season fun, like speculating whether the Baltimore Orioles will ever lose a game again, or whether the Minnesota Twins will ever win a game again. But 162 games is a lot of games. I’d rather eat a beanbag chair than watch an NFL game, but it’s a fair point that in pro football’s 16-game season, everything matters. Even a devoted baseball fan like me could take a nap, wake up on Father’s Day, and not really feel like I’d missed that much.
But still, this is the time of year we have to deal with the utter worst of flowery sportswriter tripe (here’s an amazing example from Tim Keown’s article at ESPN on Mendoza-line-courting overparenting enthusiast Adam LaRoche, which contains the phrases “the molecules traveled their viral tributaries” and “they wielded their emotions like crude homemade weapons”). 2016 is going to be particularly bad, because the MLB instituted a handful of rules changes last year, and the ‘purists’ (which is baseball code for humorless scolds) are feeling the last of their oats before they succumb to nut cancer. We’re of course going to hear the usual moaning about the designated hitter rule from people who think the entire enterprise will be sullied if we aren’t treated to the hourly tragedy of watching pitchers try to hit, but this year we get an additional bunch of whinging about new baserunning rules, some leftover nonsense about instant replay, and coded racism imported from the NFL about how certain players (ahem) are making a mockery of the game with their home run trots and their bat-flipping and their gold chains and their rock and roll and their hair. Bob Costas didn’t die from the eye crud and now we have to deal with Goose Gossage blowing hot farts about how computer nerds destroyed baseball.
The thing is, I agree with a lot of this stuff! I am unflagging in my love of the designated hitter rule, but I don’t like that hitters wear body armor, I think it sucks that they’re trying to discourage baserunners from breaking up plays at second and home, I love pitchers who plunk hitters for pretty much any reason at all, and I wish the pitcher could still own the inside unless the hitter was gutsy enough to risk getting pummeled. Even though I hate the old-school horseshit about ‘character’ and ‘gut feelings’ and ‘intangibles’, I’m still distrustful of SABRmetrics because it still never manages to predict anything worth knowing. But these issues are never discussed honestly; they’re just eructated randomly as part of the old folks’ tirades about how when they were kids things were super cool and great but the kids now are into real dumb shit and why can’t we ruin their fun so that way no one will have any at all. It’s not only boring and pointless, it’s the worst possible way to attract young people to a sport that’s losing fans every generation.
So, in short, baseball fans, players, ex-players, owners, officials, journalists, and everyone else involved in the sport are awful and should all be shunned. But baseball, the sport, is beautifully paced, brutally strategic, brilliantly strategic, incredibly beautiful, and irresistibly dense. And, on top of all that, it’s so much fun. I couldn’t be happier it’s back, and not even all the people in it can make me stop loving it.