The minor leagues are where players hone their skills in small regional ballparks and where fans can play under $10 to see tomorrow’s all-stars. The Minors is where players climb the ladder, where players build character as they spend weeks “riding the bus” between small towns.
In the Majors, defending champions the LA Dodgers have hit a rough patch, losing seven of their last ten games but still maintain a league-leading record.
Oakland Athletics’ hot start has slowed a little after their 13-game winning streak was ended last week, but they remain one of the leading teams in the American League. The A’s are tied for the best record with the Boston Red Sox, although the improved Yankees seem set on reeling in their bitter rivals.
As a baseball fan here in the UK, it isn’t easy to talk about the sport in your everyday life, although social media makes that easier with fan groups like MLB UK. But still, when you are sat at your virtual desk chatting with colleagues on Teams and talk about the fantastic double play turned the previous night you are mostly greeted with blank stares and “Isn’t it just rounders?”
Now, I think a large majority of people in the UK played rounders in school at least once, and those less athletically inclined children enjoyed the anonymity of standing far away from the ball, so they didn’t have to do anything.
But the modern game of baseball is a far cry from the game forced on us by PE teachers who wanted an easy day. I certainly never faced a pitcher who could place a ball in a tiny window at 100mph or a pitch with movement that sees the ball drop five feet just as it reaches you.
That, of course, is just one tiny aspect of the game. The intricacies would take a book, or two, to discuss, and I just don’t have that space here.
Baseball is more than the game that we played in school because it carries so much more meaning in the US as well as Central America and East Asia.
To compare baseball and our football is to compare apples and elephants. We go to a football match and watch intently for 45 minutes, grab a snack, and then another 45 minutes before we start the analysis with our friends.
By its own definition, baseball is a pastime; it is America’s pastime. It doesn’t have the intensity of football; the game is played with a series of peaks and troughs; much like great TV, it often comes down to the final few episodes, or innings to use the correct vernacular.
Heading to the ballpark offers a different experience to the highly charged atmosphere of European sports or even the NFL. It's about arriving early and catching balls hit by superstars during batting practice and then approaching them to sign it. Can you imagine footballers doing that?
As much as the on-field action is vital to baseball, so is the off-field experience. Teams go to great lengths to make the day about family, to entertain between innings, and make the experience so much more than just ball, strikes, and home runs.
The thing that baseball offers more than any other sport is the shared experience. It’s a chance to get together with friends you’ve not seen in months and share a beer and a hotdog. It’s about watching the game under the lights and correcting the umpire from your seat 150ft away. It’s about the crack of the bat and the spark of excitement as the ball flies through the air; it’s about those small moments that remain in your memory forever.
So when I’m asked, “isn't it just rounders?” I smile and nod while thinking about my friends, the home runs and the races to get connections after extra innings and most importantly, the hotdogs, then I say, “Yeah, but a lot more expensive.”