Roger talks about baseball. I used to love baseball -- maybe even more than I loved football. I loved the game's slower pace, the way a game unfolded rather than took place. I loved how long the thrilling moments of tension would last, and the way that in the hands of skilled spostscasters, those moments would almost seem cinematic in a way that the tense moments in football often are not. In a football game, when your team is trying to drive for a winning score in the final moments, it's still Come to the line, set, snap the ball. But when watching a baseball game, in a tight spot in the 9th inning -- well, let's say your team is holding a one-run lead with one out in the 9th. Your team's closer is on the mound, and he's a pretty good closer as closers go, but he's got one run already on base and the next two batters up are the best hitters the other team's got. The way this might unfold on teevee? Instead of football's "Watch the guys come to the line and snap the ball, always from the same angle", in baseball you'll often get a series of shots:
Closeup on the pitcher as he leans forward to see the signs.
Long shot so we can see the catcher.
Quick cut to the guy at first, getting a good jump.
Back to the pitcher, who takes his stance.
Cut to the batter, who taps the plate with the bat and readies for his swing.
Back to the pitcher, who glances over his shoulder at the guy at first.
Back to the long shot. The catcher readies for the pitch.
The pitcher stands there, ready. Glances at first again. Seems about to wind up.
He winds up, and finally, when the tension's greatest and the crowd is screaming wildly, here's the pitch.
The batter swings.
The ball goes...somewhere. Where? Well, that determines the next moment.
That's what it's like when baseball is really good. When it's bad, though -- well, this parody (from Buffalo's own WGR Sports Radio) isn't as far off as you might think. ("Greg Buck" is a character they use in fake "authentic" broadcasts which are often utterly hilarious.) Baseball's problems are well-established -- the games take way too long, the big post-season games start so late that they often end well after midnight, the game's lack of real revenue-sharing hampers small-market teams to a point, and of course, the steroid issue which makes a lot of it just seem fake, anyway.
It would be easy to me to say that those reasons are the main factors in my not really paying much attention to baseball anymore, but the truth is...that photo up there. That's Sid Bream, beating a throw from Barry Bonds in Game Seven of the 1992 National League Series. Bream's run was the winning run, which put the Atlanta Braves in the World Series for the second year in a row. (They'd lose the Series to Toronto, in what was the first of Toronto's back-to-back Series wins. Neat baseball factoid: Joe Carter made the final out of the 1992 World Series, and then the next year, scored the final walk-off run of the 1993 Series. Two consecutive series ended on Joe Carter doing something.)
That NLCS was one of the most nauseating experiences I've ever had as a sports fan. The Pirates had fallen behind in the NLCS, 3 games to 1, and their loss seemed a foregone conclusion. But then they won Game 5, and after that, they won Game 6 in a big way, with their big bats finally exploding for a bunch of runs. In Game 7, they took a 2-0 lead into the bottom of the 9th. All they had to do was record three outs...but instead, the Braves scored three runs, with the final two coming on a single from a backup catcher named Francisco Cabrera whom no one had ever heard of before (and no one's heard from since). Cabrera's hit is burned on my brain: the pitch from Stan Belinda, and Cabrera's swing in which he just kind of flailed the bat out there, seeming to have zero idea of where the pitch actually was -- until he'd smacked it over shortstop Jay Bell's head into left field.
And Barry Bonds couldn't throw out Sid Bream, who is legendary for being one of the slowest guys on the basepaths in baseball history.
My love of baseball didn't end that night, obviously. I'd watch it for some years afterward, loyally and faithfully. But what did end that night was the last season in which my team didn't suck. The Pirates have posted a losing record every year since that one. Eighteen of 'em. Nobody has ever done that, in any sport. They've had at least five distinct "rebuilding efforts" since then, and another is supposedly underway right now. But hope for Pirates fans does not spring eternal, as we've seen kids born the last time the Pirates were a winning team first turn old enough to drive...and then old enough to vote. Just three more, and they're old enough to drink.
When you favorite team sucks for that long, it's no surprise that your enthusiasm for the sport in general flags a bit.
Just seeing what's happened in baseball in general since 1992 is amazing. Players have played entire long careers in that span, and never encountered a good Pirates team. The game's hallowed records have fallen (owing to drugs, of course). The Boston Red Sox won the World Series twice, finally ending their curse; the Chicago White Sox won the Series once, ending their own long drought. Major League Baseball expanded twice, adding four teams (Colorado, Florida, Tampa, and Arizona); each of those teams has been to the World Series since entering MLB, and two have won it (Florida twice and Arizona once). When last the Pirates were good, the Yankees were fourteen years removed from their last Series win; since then, they've won five and appeared in two more. When the Pirates were good, the Angels, Astros and Rangers were all known for not being good very often. Since then, the Angels have won a Series, the Astros have been to their first, and the Rangers are about to go to their first.
Wow. A lot of water under the baseball bridge. And the Pirates still stink.