By Chana Weinberg
I was blessed to have had a pleasant first date. He got coffee, I got hot cocoa. We had interesting conversations and shared our interests–all the usual things. When discussing our hobbies, I told my date that I enjoy following Major League Baseball. I said that I spend a lot of my free time both watching the games and reading about it. My genuinely curious date responded respectfully with a familiar response: “that’s interesting…but why?” First, baseball is boring and second, how could I like something that is so trivial and insignificant in the real world?
You might be surprised at the audacity of this question, but not me, I was glad he asked.
While boredom is not a main concern for someone who enjoys baseball (it’s even more fun when you understand it!), anyone with a close proximity to professional sports has contemplated its moral value at one time or another. Major League Baseball is a billion dollar monopoly (the only legal one in the US) where owners make billions, star athletes make millions, and minimum wage is above $500,000–considered too low. It’s a bunch of mostly athletic men wearing matching shirts hitting balls with bats while another group, wearing a different color, tries to catch and throw that same ball. There are written rules and strange unwritten rules and sometimes people get severely injured.
In his question, my date was likely thinking that baseball is all material pleasure and a waste of time–except to maybe use as a good summer vacation activity (if you can afford rising ticket prices). I understand and even agree with most of these issues – even more so because of my envy of the lucky few who get paid to follow it. But an avid baseball fan always has the answer to this question on hand, so I gave him my quick, and what I thought exciting, take on why baseball is awesome.
But as college continues to get harder and work takes up more and more time, I think about this upcoming argument often. I realize that this question is better answered with another question: if baseball is only for material pleasure, why would it still be thriving? Just as types of fancy boots or handbags go out of style, why has our National Pastime, whose first league was established in 1876, remained popular for a century and a half?
During my senior in high school, I was fortunate to attend the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington D.C. In the huge main room of the conference, my ears, which are always tuned to a baseball frequency, caught mention of the Detroit Tigers and the name of a player who changed divisions via trade. The sound pulled me towards a group of young adults. Always thirsty for baseball talk and unlucky in finding those who share that thirst, I made the decision to throw myself into their conversation. I remember quizzical looks but after a minute of the traditional banter where you drop names and stats to establish your sophisticated level of baseball knowledge, we had a nice conversation about the competitiveness of the American League (AL) Central versus the AL East.
Soon the baseball talk veered to more important topics. The group was students from Michigan State who ran their school’s Israel Advocacy club. We discussed Israel–they told me about their advocacy on campus and I told them about Israel from an Orthodox Jew’s perspective. The conversation began by calculating significance of the different shirt colors of those athletic males, but through it we had the discussion that changed my outlook on Israel’s relationship with America and its Jews. To this description, my date could have argued that MLB is not unique in connecting individuals: multitudes of people have random hobbies and succeed in finding people who are similar–that’s why there are so many blogs these days! I would reply that he was missing something.
In my six short years following baseball, I am continuously astonished by the unity that baseball brings to a city. From the overflowing AT&T Park of San Francisco Giant’s near dynasty in ‘10, ‘12, and ‘14 to the Royal’s “keep the line moving” motto for their ‘15 World Series run, cities thrive as its team thrives. Every individual feels responsible for its team’s success and the inhabitants are all connected by a shared logo.
There is the infamous Joey Bats Bat Flip of 2015, when the weight of a country rested on one team’s shoulders; the estimated 5 million people at the Chicago Cubs’ World Series parade in 2016, the city’s first in 108 years; the Pittsburgh Pirates fans during the 2013 Wild Card game “blackout” when they spooked pitcher Johnny Cueto into dropping the ball, literally.
These images remind me of baseball’s value in the times when I question if it is worth it. A common knock on baseball is its tendency to be too regional, that it is not popular enough to attract a national audience, especially as more small market teams succeed. Though there is more money in a larger national interest, the unity that overtakes a baseball city is invaluable. If that is not enough, I have one final reasons of why baseball is my hobby and why I’m not always plagued with doubt at its value.
Mike Trout is the best baseball player on the planet. He has won two MVP awards and is a mainstay on both all time and seasonal statistical leaderboards. But Mike Trout has been to the playoffs only once in six years while LeBron James, the best basketball player of this generation, has been to the NBA Finals seven times in seven years. Mike Trout alone cannot bring his team success, but it’s not because he lacks skill. Rather, because baseball is a true team sport were the way to success is contributions from everyone. However, it is also true that baseball is an individual sport consisting of thousands of individual chess matches between a pitcher and a hitter. Baseball’s dichotomous existence parallels life’s conflict between individual desire and the individual sacrificing himself for the community.
This only scratches the surface of the baseball fan’s perspective on what makes baseball important and, as anyone with a hobby, I can go on and on and tell you that this is just a taste of baseball’s value. I love the statistics of it all; WAR, FIP, wOBA, xwOBA, ERA+/-and my personal favorite, BABIP; I love watching teammates interact; I relish a hard fought duel pitchers and following Cut4. Although it didn’t work out, I should thank my date for reminding me that I am not wasting my time following baseball. But I must also remember that baseball is a hobby and while I love finding a deeper meaning in it, maybe a hobby is all its meant to be. So now that you know that I’m procrastinating by following baseball, please come over and talk to me about what you love to do and I’ll try to keep the baseball talk to a minimum.