Baseball Withdrawal

This is not my time of the year. When baseball season is over I am just miserable, not to mention bored. Yes, there is football. And in Philadelphia that is what the natives live for. But for me personally, there is no other sport like the game of baseball. And in the months that follow the World Series I count the days until spring training.

With the General Manager meetings going on in Florida and the bidding wars for players ready to start I have begun to get that rush of excitement, anxiety and hope. Though the Philadelphia Phillies don't appear to have the upper hand for most of the trades we'd like to see them make I still hang onto the possibility of what could be. If there is one thing I have learned to count on year after year in baseball it is the unexpected. No one expected the Phillies to let Scott Rolen slip away or that they would reject the return of Curt Schilling, one of the greatest pitchers in baseball. Nor did we expect them to make the deal to get someone like Jim Thome or Billy Wagner. No one expected the Red Sox to let go of Nomar or for Terry Francona to be the manager that would lead the Sox to their first World Series victory in 86 years. No one expected Jack McKeon would come into the last half of the season in 2003 and lead the Florida Marlins to a World Series, their second in less than ten years. These things happen. It is the magic and mystery of the game. Sometimes it's a painful shock – as in the Phillies 2004 season - and sometimes it's a joyous surprise, but it is always interesting.

"No matter what I talk about I always get back to baseball."
Connie Mack
John Updike wrote that "Baseball is essentially a lonely sport". When I look at each player on the field I am always struck by that notion. Each man stands in his own battle zone. There is the fascinating relationship between the pitcher and the catcher, a one on one team that depends upon one another and in all corners of the field, one man stands alone waiting. The man on the hill is in the center of things and it always fascinates me to watch him. I cannot imagine having the strength to do such a thing. The fact that baseball is essentially also not a contact sport makes Updike's belief even truer. They watch each other, study the opponent, and prepare themselves for the unknown. But the beauty of the game is the respect with which the players must have for one another's space, something I love about baseball. A player like Sean Casey will get on base and start chatting up the first or second baseman, as will Jim Thome. You don't exactly get that in football. And when someone tags an opponent out it is simply expected that the players will do so in a gracious way. No tackling here…well not usually. The old fashioned quality of baseball never ceases to make me smile. To me it is a gentleman's sport even if the gentlemen are sometimes the rough and tough type. The essence of the game cannot be lost no matter what in my opinion. I love the quiet intensity of it. The sound of the ball hitting leather? Yes Liebey, love that too.

There have been recent talks of the idea that baseball should be on a time clock the way that a football game is and I just about passed out. That would be removing one of the great, truly exciting things about the game. I think of how revved up I get when the game goes over and enters the 11th, then the 13th, it starts to drive me nuts and I get jumpy. I yell at the players - or the television - to end it already. But the truth is, I love it. It's one of those unexpected moments again that baseball brings. One of the most exciting things I have ever experienced as a Phillies fan was as a teenager sitting up and watching that all-nighter in 1993. Mitch Williams a hitter, who woulda thunk it?

There is also talk of implementing a replay rule so that the umpires can correctly call games, which I'm still on the fence about. While I think that umpires today need an ego check - specifically the younger ones - I feel like we are messing with the purity of the sport. There is a heartbreaking quality to baseball that I am kind of used to. That would change it and – well ok maybe that's one new idea to consider. I just don't like change. The truth is I get unhealthily attached to teams, managers (Don't get me started), and years. I find myself unable to let go of times past and you can call that any way you want. The same goes for the way it's played. Would it be the same if we added these new elements? Call me old fashioned but it would feel like something was a bit lost if it changed. But that of course is only my opinion. And according to Ed Wade, Ruben Amaro and David Montgomery fans opinions really don't count. Just the hard earned dollars that we stuff in their pockets.

I have learned a lot from watching baseball players and listening to them. You often hear them talk about the importance of relaxing so that they can do their job more efficiently, that the mental aspect of the game is most important and that once you understand that the rest comes to you. Not bad lessons to apply to life. When they focus they can work wonders and when they don't…Brett Myers anyone?

I know these are all just ramblings but it is simply due to my serious fall/winter illness: baseball withdrawal. I just can't cope so this was my way of sending a love letter to the great game as it goes behind closed office doors and the suits try and make it better for the forthcoming season.

Of baseball I will say, please, don't ever change. And i'll close with this, a speech in the vein of one recited at the end of my favorite baseball movie of all time ("Pride of the Yankees" is tied with it though): I believe that luck plays a big part in baseball, I believe that guts are often more important than talent. I believe in bench clearing brawls that go on for twenty minutes, that umpires ruin careers, and that plunking someone is necessary sometimes. I believe in holding onto homegrown players, that pitching is an art form, that Lenny Dykstra should be in the Hall of Fame (Yes I said it) and I believe that Harry Kalas is more of a Phillie than anyone who wears the uniform. I believe in small ball and the complete game. I believe that baseball is the greatest sport on the face of the earth. And I believe in everything that Crash Davis said.

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