Passionate fans of baseball are often asked to defend their love of the game by people who don’t like the slower pace or the perceived lack of action and in many instances the defense is simply the romance of baseball itself. Billy Beane speaks about it during his public speaking engagements, as did his movie persona in a pivotal scene from Moneyball, and every baseball fan has specific memories of this simple game bringing a tear to their eye or filling them with immeasurable joy. Baseball is a beautiful game.
For many fans, the romance of baseball stems from their youth; staying up late to watch the World Series with your father, trips to the ballpark with your grandmother, skipping school to see Rickey Henderson break the stolen base record with your best friend, all become ingrained into your memory and stick with you forever. You will never forget sitting in the park on a Sunday afternoon, eating popcorn, and asking your dad about every single thing on the field. “Why do they throw to second instead of first, dad?” or “why don’t those foul balls count as strikes, grandma?” Baseball is handed down through the generations and because it has gone relatively unchanged for over a century, every fan can pass on the knowledge of their parents to their children and baseball lives for another generation.
Beyond the personal memories, though, are collective memories that are shared with hundreds or thousands of people. After years of watching their team lose, every Cubs fan has a shared memory of the team’s 2016 World Series victory and, conversely, every A’s fan has a collective memory of the 2014 Wild Card loss. Years after a defining game has been played, fans will debate pitching changes and base running decisions, and why the Cespedes trade is to blame for everything wrong in baseball. Baseball is not experienced alone, it is experienced with everyone young and old, black and white, male and female, Republican and Democrat, saint and sinner, Beatles fan and Stones fan, or dog lover and cat lover.
Then there are the stories within the game. An aging hitter with a .200 average and an 0-30 hitting streak driving in the winning run of a game or a pitcher once thought past his prime throwing a no hitter, these are the things that make baseball romantic. On any given day something amazing can happen. Every trip to the park has the potential to be the most exciting and memorable game of your life. Nobody thought they’d see Bartolo Colon hit his first home run in his 40s but 30,000 fans left the ballpark with a story to tell their children and a memory that will last forever. Amazing things happen in baseball every single day.
Anyone seeking more evidence of the romance of baseball need look no further than the 2017 World Series. In the first four games, two evenly matched teams traded wins and ultimately played one of the most exciting games in recent memory for game 5. With two aces on the mound and a four run lead, nobody expected a back and forth rally resulting in extra innings, walk-off wins, and the very real possibility that position players may be called to pitch. It was a game which every fan watching will remember and debate for years to come and has become another shared collective memory in the ever expanding story of the sport.
We spend 162 nights a year watching our teams battle it out for glory and, occasionally, we get a few extra games on the end to make our blood pressure rise. We watch players grow, develop, and improve over time. We’re there during the streaks as well as the slumps and we remain loyal to the name on the front of the jersey. We are sad when players leave but cheer when they return with their new team. From the final out of the World Series to the day pitchers and catchers report in the spring, we are lost without the games and story lines that define the greatest soap opera America has ever produced.
Baseball is not simply a game, it is a part of us. It is a uniquely American experience with the power to bring us great pride, joy, excitement, anger, frustration, and depression. It is a game that can be enjoyed superficially by a four year old or obsessed over by mathematician. It is perfect in its construction (and pace of play) and filled with simplistic complexity. The romance of baseball isn’t just one thing, it is everything. The smell of the yard, the long-standing traditions, the unwritten rules, the predictable unpredictability, the heart and hustle and drive, the romance is endless.
What makes baseball romantic to you? What moments stand out to you as defining your fandom? Share your stories in the comments below.
How can you not get romantic over baseball?