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Thursday, March 27, 2008

MLB: Why baseball is the best outdoor sport on Earth

I want to preface my first piece (of the season) on the MLB with the a plain declaration of my love for baseball. Unless you grew up playing the game you might not share my fervent passion. With Opening Day approaching, it follows that I thrilled expound on why I think baseball is the best outdoor game on Earth.

While the pace might dissuade some potential viewers, it is more likely their inability to grasp (or lack of exposure to) the finer details that make baseball such a amazing spectacle. It is a sport of calculated decisions coupled with the physical demands of other major sports, traits that can be overlooked by those who fail to learn or study -- and thus appreciate -- the intricacies of this superficially simple, yet often surprisingly dynamic sporting event.

A players ability to hit, run, catch and throw are merely the seeds of the prerequisite abilities; abilities that proliferate and branch manifesting a players role or value to an organization. Like no other sport baseball demands a unique skill-set that is predominately composed of: patience and mental focus, athleticism and intelligence; characteristics that must be delicately balanced according to ones specialty (in other words, their position). But, how are the former fundamental prerequisites influenced and determined by the latter physical attributes?

Patient hitters tangentially add potency to an offensive attack. By taking and/or fouling off pitches, these patient hitters run deep counts thereby exhausting the oppositions starting pitcher and forcing typically less-talented relief pitchers into the game to weather the storm. Driving up your opponents pitch-count grants a determinable advantage to those teams with patient bats. Look no further than the World Series Champion Boston Red Sox for an example of this. Remember this to avoid frustration when you see 6-7+ pitch at-bats and enjoy it! More often than not you are witnessing one of the finer one-on-one duals in sport (especially in clutch situations).

Mental Focus is paramount to the passage above. Without unwaivering concentration and mental focus not even Yoda could hit Johan Santanas' curve ball, yet alone intentionally foul it off in search of a more suitable pitch. Fielders also require intense focus in a game where every ground ball or pop-fly comes in differently. Subtle variations between ball parks, playing surfaces, and weather conditions all play tricks on the spin and trajectory of the leather-covered rubber & cork sphere. If that isn't enough to rattle your cage, the nature of scoring baseball subjects the players to the greatest level of individual scrutiny.

Athleticism is one of the most obvious and anticipated traits of pro athletes, albeit not mutually exclusive with ball players. Indeed, some players – due to their position (pitchers and DH's come to mind) -- can get away with unflattering physiques because their skills are so specialized. Oddly enough, some would argue fatter pitchers are more durable and bigger hitters generate more power effectively supporting certain players paradoxical conditioning. Aside from these quirks, reaction time, agility and kinesthetic intelligence are enormously vital to all ball players.

Intelligence is the tie that binds the above characteristics. Intelligence – as it pertains strictly to the game itself – is a trait nearly all major leagues possess. The mental dual that is every at-bat can be drawn upon as an example. Hitters who study a pitchers tendencies (and vice versa) invariably perform better over the long haul – and when you play 162-game seasons, proper scouting reports and quick analysis become a necessity. Every time you hear a broadcaster drop the phrase '(the batter) was waiting on that pitch', following a jack over the wall in left-center, think of how critical it was for that individual to anticipate and identify the pitch.

The importance of the physical attributes and cognitive characteristics documented above could be expanded upon in great length, something I'll forgo in the sake of brevity. I have also focused primarily on hitting and fielding, leaving pitching for another piece altogether. Please consider the minutia the next time your watching a ball game and I ensure you'll gleam added entertainment from always slow, but never boring sports that is the best the outdoors has to offer.

Thanks for stopping in, I hope you enjoyed the read. Cloud9 produces great content daily, so please click here to subscribe. Cheers, Derek.

1 comment:

supercynic said...

For an alternative (and purely satirical) view, check out my post on MLB here: