February 28, 2020

The Rhythm of the Game

February 28, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

At the risk of sounding like Yogi Berra, every baseball season is unique–that’s what makes it so typical.  Indeed, the mathematical combinations of possible outcomes in a baseball game are as infinite as the combinations of human genes; thus, no two people and no two baseball games are ever the same.  The very first pitch of any game may result in a strike, a ball, a foul ball, a single, a double, a triple, a home run, a hit by pitch, catcher’s interference, six assisted infield outs if you count the pitcher and catcher, three assisted outfield outs resulting from a batter trying to stretch a hit, but being thrown out and nine unassisted putouts. This list does not include such esoteric outcomes as a strong-armed right fielder throwing out a batter/runner at first base or the batter, incensed with some action of the umpire, being thrown out of the game before or immediately after the first pitch.  Neither does this list include the quality of the hit or of the out, for as any baseball fan knows, a bloop double is not a sign that the pitcher has nothing that day, but a scorching line out that just about rips the glove off a fielder’s hand might be a sign of an early shower.  Nor does this list consider the location of that first pitch, for again, as every baseball fan knows, there is a big difference between a languid curve ball that flops lazily into the dirt in front of home plate resulting in ball one, and a 95 mile per hour blazer that nearly scorches the stubble on a batter’s chin.

Yet, in spite of these unique combinations of events in any given game, there are certain universal rhythms that may be observed in every game.  Every baseball game begins with the starting pitcher throwing 10 warm up pitches, the last one of which the catcher pegs to second base, where one of the middle infielders catches it, applies a tag to an imaginary runner, flips it to the other middle infielder who throws it to the third baseman, who takes a few steps towards the pitcher, and tosses the ball and often a comment such as “get ’em, big boy,” ‘to the man on the mound.  The pitcher then toes the rubber, looks in to the catcher for the sign, and delivers that first pitch, and a baseball game, with its unique combination of genes is born.  As that first pitch hurtles towards the batter, reaching him in approximately 4/10ths of a second, the fans don’t know yet if they’ll see a no-hitter or a blow out; a nail-biter or a slugfest.  That uncertainty is part of the game’s rhythm which is dictated by the game itself and not by the inevitable tick of a clock.  Even with 2 outs in the 9th, we may yet witness a dramatic comeback and as each batter reaches base, our hopes, and the tension of the game, builds.

And, of course, there is a sensuous rhythm to the game that is almost as old as the game itself from the sound of metal cleats crunching along a stone chip warning track to the smell of hot dogs drifting through the stands.  The hum of the crowd, the cry of the vendor, the flapping of myriad flags along the upper most concourse; the crack of the bat, the crack of the catcher’s mitt, the distinct swish of dirt swept away by a sliding runner.  Merely hearing these sounds can transform old men into time travelers who could open their inner eyes and see the last ballpark they were ever in, or perhaps the first.  They would open their eyes and see Eden-green grass and the effortless grace of young men in their prime. Or perhaps they would open their eyes and find themselves, not in the stands, but gliding across that lush green grass, looking up into the sky, tracking a lazy fly ball, drifting under it ever so gracefully.

It’s the unique aspect of baseball that makes it such an intriguing game, but it is these eternal rhythms of the game that take us home again.

Excerpted from Safe at Home:  A Season in the Valley the story of the 2009 New Market Rebels and the fans who root them on.  See www.rebelsbaseball.biz for more information on the book and the Rebels

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