I spend a lot of time here pointing out everything that’s wrong with baseball. Maybe even most of my time. And for good reason. Baseball is broken, and the latest CBA doesn’t do nearly enough to address the problems. And those who are in a position to do anything about it aren’t interested in doing so, because it might cost them a dollar now. There’s more than a longshot chance that by the time you and I are dead, baseball could become boxing or horse racing.
Of course, I’m biased. I’ve been especially hurt, having the players that brought me a Cubs World Series title, and thus reshaping my entire world view, first unsupported and then ripped from out of our hearts thanks to the biggest shithead owners you can find. It colors one’s view of the entire sport.
But I still care, right? I mean, there’s got to be something that keeps me coming back. I wouldn’t get upset if I didn’t care, if baseball didn’t mean something to me. You wouldn’t be reading this if it didn’t mean something to you. Only those that mean something to you can really make you angry or hurt (as a friend once said to me during a rocky time in a relationship, any woman worth loving is one that can end you at a moment’s notice). We know what baseball can be. What it can stir inside you. How it shapes and influences a summer. What is a summer without baseball? I thought I wanted to find out during the lockout, as the only way to make the massive changes I think MLB needs. But I know I would have been completely lost, too. Without baseball in the summer I would have constantly felt as though I needed to wake up. It wouldn’t have felt real.
So here’s a list of things that still ring a tuning fork within me. They’re in no particular order, and it’s only a sampling, but they’re off the top of my head.
The baseball nap
Ok, it’s weird to start this list with an activity that doesn’t actually involve watching baseball. But if you’re a MLB.TV subscriber, or just wait for your team to play West Coast games, you know. You turn on a Dodgers or A’s or Padres home game on a Sunday afternoon. The windows are open, there’s a slight breeze coming through. Your curtains, if you have them, occasionally billow. You can hear kids around the neighborhood playing in the yard after whatever commitments their family made them go through in the early afternoon. Maybe someone’s got some tunes going as they start grilling. The sunlight is no longer bright or harsh enough to bother you. And you just pass out on the couch from the comfort of it all, the tones of Don Orsillo or Duane Kiper just kind of guiding you off. It’s the culmination of your week. Work is still many hours off, your weekend activities are over, and for just a bit you can calmly sail off.
Matt Olson’s swing
There’s something about left-handed hitters. They’re the only ones with swings that get described as beautiful or art. Maybe it’s because a lot of left handed hitters are actually right-handed the rest of the time, and a lead-arm dominated swing looks better. Maybe there is no reason. Baseball has never consistently needed reason. Julio Franco is about the only right-handed hitter I remember having a silky swing.
The most artful swing was Will Clark’s, even when he was sending a Greg Maddux pitch to Rhinelander in the 1989 playoffs. Ken Griffey Jr.’s is another you’ll see named as the prettiest of all time. So smooth, so direct, so simple. There aren’t as many now. Bryce Harper or Shohei Ohtani have a violence to their swing. Juan Soto’s is a little jerky. Back when Cody Bellinger still was among the living, he had the proper arc, but his swing had a torque to it that gave it a desperation.
Matt Olson is the one who comes closest. Loopy but smooth. No jerk or hitch. It all feels like a flow.
Kris Bryant’s swing
Again, biased. And all his swings won’t mean anything in Denver. But there’s always been a mystery about Bryant’s swing to me. It’s so short, and it doesn’t look all that powerful. Watching on TV the ball doesn’t jump off his bat, at least in the same obvious way as it does others’. It almost looks like Bryant catches the ball with his bat and then flings the ball like it was out of a lacrosse stick. And then the ball is traveling on a line a few hundred feet. It looks the same live, too. So very quick, so compact, you don’t know what’s going on while it happens.
Javy Baez’s tag
Obvious, popular, but still true.
Oracle Park in the daytime
Just looks majestic. Which it is. Almost like a movie set. Feels like something you’d unlock in a video game. You can almost forget it’s in an urban area that’s home to most of the tech bros gobbling up our society in huge chunks.
Any pitcher who begins walking off the mound before a curveball hits the catcher’s mitt
The first I remember doing this was Kerry Wood. There would be two strikes and he would snap off that yakker he had (which eventually destroyed his elbow) and he would get out of his post-delivery bend and start heading to the dugout because he knew he had the batter buckled. By the time the ump was punching the hitter out Kerry was off the mound. Walker Buehler will do this now. Verlander, too. A lot of pitchers bury a two-strike curve in the dirt and there’s the mystery of whether a batter will swing or the catcher will block it, so the pitcher can’t head out early. But on the rare occasion they drop it in for a called strike, and they know they’ve really spun it well, that’s swag.
Anyway, that’s a brief list. If you’re excited for the season to start today, I hope you enjoy Opening Day.
Throwing in this to end it from yesterday’s Champions League game between Real Madrid and Chelsea, which Madrid won 3-1. This particular moment is sport at its highest level. We watch to see guys do things only the very rare human can do, and that rush is heightened when it’s two players at the absolute peak of skill facing off directly. In concert, and yet in conflict.
César Azpiliqueta can’t hit this shot any better. He has a defender closing him down, so he’s got little time. And this is headed for the corner. If he could throw it, this is where he would have placed the shot. Even strikers hit a shot this well maybe one out of five times. Or ten. Azpilicueta is a defender who catches this perfectly.
And it spurs Thibaut Courtois to fully outstretch, react insanely quickly. Azpilicueta brings Courtois to the height of his profession. It’s a symphony, brought about by opposing forces.