[“Sabbath” is this blog’s Sunday feature on topics beyond the world of jobs and careers.]
Reality Hits Home
Today I’m going to my last baseball game of this season. The Cubs will host the Atlanta Braves at Wrigley Field. It’s been a great year for the Braves, who are one of the best teams in either league. The Cubs, however, are a different story. They’re rebuilding, which means they’ve traded off experienced players in the hope of developing through youth. We’ll see about that strategy.
I love baseball. It’s the spring and summer game. Baseball is the sport that has spawned the greatest mythologies and most memorable statistics. However, as the season comes to an end, we realize that cold and darkness are coming. The World Series is called the Fall Classic, but many of its games are often played on 40 degree days with rain and sleet, another sign of winter’s arrival.
The end of a season also brings reflection on the season that has been. After the Cubs traded several experienced players, the team’s fans started to focus on those players that should be future stars. Two of them, Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, had miserable years, both after signing long term contracts. Castro has had two good years previous to this one. He even led the league in most hits. Rizzo had a great second half last year, showing both power and the ability to hit for average. This year both players underperformed. Similarly, the projected staff ace Jeff Samardzija was erratic. Some starts were very good, but in others he seemed to be throwing batting practice.
These are reasons for concern, maybe even despair. The great thing about baseball is that spring training starts in the dead of winter. While it’s cold and dark during February in Chicago, the Cubs will head to Arizona to start the 2014 season, a new slate. However this year ended, we fans will look for signs of a better future. And that’s the magic of baseball. Every season begins with hope.
[On Sundays this blog looks beyond the world of work and careers in Sabbath.]
The National Pastimes
I grew up a baseball fan and still love the game. Baseball is the summer game, and it has a fascinating history that goes back more than 100 years. A baseball game can turn in an instant on a pitch, hit, error, or base-running mistake. People who love baseball like the game’s pace, which is slow and deliberative.
America’s other pastime is much more fast and ferocious. Today is the first Sunday of the NFL season. No one seems to care about an off-season filled with stories about head injuries. Pro football rules the American sports scene. It’s not unusual for me to watch two or three games on Sunday. And, as hypocritical as it sounds, I still get excited when there’s a big hit. Every week there are offensive and defensive highlights that relayed from Monday through Saturday. Football invites viewers to get into the game in a way that baseball does not.
Part of the difference between the two sports is frequency of games. There are only 16 games in an NFL season; baseball plays 162 games. A win or loss in football is worth 10 times a loss in baseball. A great baseball team can have two 5 game losing streaks in a season. That would be disaster in the NFL.
Football’s also a better sport for TV. In reality, both sports take about 2 ½ - 3 hours to complete a game. Football seems faster because it is easier to follow as teams move up and down the field. While strategy in football is much more complex than baseball, the movement of players and the ball can be followed without the same attention that baseball requires. A squeeze bunt or passed ball happens so fast that only a sophisticated fan who is paying close attention understands the impact. Football has a clear stop before each play that gives fans a chance to know how many yards are needed for a first down, how close their team is to scoring. Nothing is so simple in baseball.
Baseball calls itself America’s pastime, and it holds that title as a legacy. Football rules. Fans want to sit in front of a large screen and party. They want to go to a bar and enjoy the game as a social activity with friends. Baseball asks for more from its fans. Maybe it asks for too much. I will continue to watch and love both games, but I’m not going to fool myself. In 2013, pro football is America’s pastime, if not its social religion.