Monday, June 24, 2013

How Great is Baseball?

I went to the Yankee game last Wednesday night and, like many others, I was struck by how punchless their lineup was. Jayson Nix was the two-hitter and Thomas Neal was batting fifth. The most frequently asked question at Yankee Stadium that night was, "Who the hell is Thomas Neal?"

This bomberless version of the Bronx Bombers fell behind early. At some point it became clear that the Yanks weren't going to mount a comeback, not with that lineup. Still, I was at the ballpark and life was good. The Dodgers were visiting Yankee Stadium for the first time since the 1981 World Series. Don Mattingly, Donnie Baseball, was at Yankee Stadium for the first time as a manager. And Dodgers phenom Yasiel Puig was playing. PUIG!!! When he came up to lead off the seventh, I said to my buddy, "The Yanks probably aren't gonna win, but hopefully we'll at least get to see Puig hit a bomb. That would be fun to tell our kids." Sure enough, Puig did this:

There's a well-known story about Joe DiMaggio that speaks to the greatness of baseball. Late in his career, DiMaggio was asked why he hustled on a play that meant little in a game that had minimal bearing on the Yankee’s fate that year. "Because there is always some kid who may be seeing me for the first time," DiMaggio explained. "I owe him my best." I don't know if Puig was thinking something similar last Wednesday, but it sure felt like that to a lot of Yankee fans.

I was searching for a better word than "Great" for the title of this post, but it was the word that fit best. After all, the excellent Tim Kurkjian wrote an entire baseball book entitled Is This a Great Game, or What? Here's an excerpt from that book:

"It is the best game because of its unpredictability. Every day you go to the ballpark, you might see something you've never seen in your life. How many other people can say that about their jobs? I saw Brad Komminsk disappear over the eight-foot-high fence in left-center field at Memorial Stadium after making a spectacular catch; his hand, with the ball in it, eventually reached over the top of the fence. I saw Bo Jackson run up the same fence, like a skateboarder on a banked turn, after making a great running catch. I saw Bert Blyleven strike out nine batters in one game, all called third strikes. I saw a deranged fan jump out of the upper deck and land on the netting behind the plate at Yankee Stadium. I saw Jeff Stone make an out at all four bases in one game...It is the best game because it contains so many elements and nuances, so much happening behind the scenes; it lends itself to strange circumstances, events, and plays, things that can only happen in baseball, things that make me smack myself in the forehead and say, "How great is that?"...A lot of people get it. They get baseball. And they will always get it. They're the lucky ones. They know, and always will know, that baseball is the best game."

People like to make fun of Kurkjian and give him a lot of shit...

...But Kurkjian has it exactly right. Baseball is the best game, our country's game, and it will always be the best. Events like Puig's homer in Yankee Stadium Wednesday night constantly remind us of that.

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