Spring has sprung and with it hope springs eternal in the world of baseball. While most of us in the Great White North remain in the tight embrace of Jack Frost, the boys of summer are getting the kinks out down south.
So while I compose my letter of extreme dissatisfaction to Mr. David Suzuki and his over-promised and under-delivered global warming, let us examine baseball and its place in the Canadian sports hierarchy.
Snake Skins: The author does not consider golf a sport and as such, it will not be included in this article for statistical purposes.
As major league sports go, it's difficult to gauge just exactly where it belongs on the scale of importance to the average fan:
- Hockey obviously ranks first, but then the field is wide open;
- Strong arguments can be made for NFL and CFL;
- Soccer's global reach is undisputed; and,
- The NBA's fan base has been growing especially within the youth movement.
If we were talking about television audience statistics, baseball would probably make the top five. However, the question is: Where does it belong in peoples' hearts and minds?
Population participation numbers fall roughly something like this – and according to sketchy statistics. Most of the time, most of us play: hockey, soccer, basketball, football – and then baseball. The culprit here is the aforementioned winter, while the first four disciplines can and are played indoors, baseball falls woefully short in its ability to be enjoyed in, lets say, a high school gym scenario. Yes, it can be done but injuries would be frequent and of the ghastly variety – as well as the cost of window and light fixture replacement prohibitive.
From the perspective of pure athleticism required in baseball's participants, 'the game of catch' is not exactly very demanding. There is a bit of running involved but aside from the pitcher who works like a dog, the most frequent activity is standing around and watching. The most often-heard complaint from its detractors is that not much happens and that it's boring. A lot of emphasis is placed on hand-eye coordination, timing and balance – but these are hardly the feats of manly bravado to be bragging to the girlfriend about.
So if baseball remains one of the few sports where the audience and perhaps the odd righfielder can bring a book to and still not miss any of the action, what is its charm and
hold on us? Well, for one, anyone can do it. From little league t-ball to beer leagues to the seniors' circuits, come one and come all. A stick, a ball, and (not even necessarily) a glove is all that's needed. Only a few games rival the simplicity that is involved in baseball. It can be and is played virtually anywhere and everywhere outdoors – just decent weather is required. Based on those very basic criteria, it has through its accessibility garnered international fan and participation numbers, superceeded only by soccer.
The mystery of its appeal comes down to something also very simple and basic. Especially in North America, baseball announces the arrival of Spring with Summer not far behind. As we struggle through the darkness of winter's long months, the first few sunny and warm days have us scrambling for the mitt and ball. This is the time of year we frequently see fathers dragging their reluctant youngsters into the backyard or nearby park to toss and catch. The game does not discriminate between the young and old or the sexes. They can all play together and nothing brings them closer than the smell of freshly cut grass, the warm sunshine on their smiling faces, and the pure simple pleasure of throwing a ball to their (grand)children.
It's the constant of baseball, the guarantee that our warm months will be filled with the joy of a sport spectacle that is reassuring and loved by the legions of bench warmers eager to get it underway. And so hope springs eternal, especially in the hearts of Canada's team with their exciting off-season acquisitions, enticing us with the promise of a summer full of adventure sure to take us to the heights not visited since the glory days of '92 and '93.
So whether you are playing softball with your chums, coaching your daughters' t-ball, or playing catch on the beach; it's time, I say! C'mon Summer, let's play ball! •
Jock Talk With Jake the Snake
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