(a primer for Italians)
Sunday, April 3, 2016—the baseball season begins. For those who love the sport, it doesn’t need to be said: Opening Day is the real start of Spring. However, those who don’t know or don’t like the game—too many pauses, boring, not very athletic, too many statistics—should reflect on this theory: baseball is not a sport where nothing happens, but it proceeds according to its own rules and rhythms.
For those who don’t know how it is organized, here is a brief overview. In Major League Baseball, there are 30 teams (one is Canadian) divided into 2 leagues, American and National. The regular season is 162 games and ends at the beginning of October. 10 teams go to the playoffs. The final between the winners in each league is the World Series, and the champion wins the best of 7 games. For 6 months during the regular season, teams play almost every day. For fans, every day is a new opportunity. Players don’t complain because too much rest threatens the top performance of their bodies and the rhythm of the game. It’s a little like Italian football.
In a certain sense, baseball is a game of failure. The best teams don’t win 2 out of 3 games. At the end of the season, the wining percentage is only about .575. Star hitters bat only around .300—that is, they are successful only 3 out of 10 plate appearances. And an average major league pitcher wins less than half of this starts.
The current World Series Champion are the Kansas City Royals, who won 95 regular season games last year. They became known as a team with a great attitude, in part because they came from behind to win many late-inning games. The San Francisco Giants won World Series in 2010, 2012, and 2014, and some speculate that they are or will be a winning dynasty. They have a beautiful stadium, on the bay of San Francisco, with fans in boats hoping to catch a homerun on the water.
The Giants are the arch rivals of our local team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, currently the richest team in baseball (but without a title since 1988). It has been and is a controversial team. Currently fans are unhappy that they can’t see their team on television (it’s a long story), particularly during the last year with the famous and gracious Vin Scully as the team’s announcer for 66 years.
But the greatest rivalry—possibly in all of sports—is that between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. The Yankees are the Juventus of baseball with more titles (27) and more fans in the entire country. You love ‘em or you hate ‘em. Red Sox fans call them “the evil empire.” The rivalry dates back to the early 1900s. The Red Sox owner sold their star player, Babe Ruth, to the Yankees. Given that the Red Sox hadn’t won a World Series going forward for more than 90 years, this is known as “the curse of the Bambino.” Now that the Red Sox have won 2 titles in the 21st century, the curse has been lifted.
These rivalries are fun as long as people don’t take them too seriously. Fights in and outside the stadium are ugly, as are pitchers who throw 90+ mile-an-hour fastballs at the head of a batter. Like everything else, our national pastime has its sad side.
There are many films about the romantic side of baseball. Among my favorites is “Bull Durham,” in which Susan Sarandon every years dates a player from the local minor league team. One of her best lines (in a Southern drawl): “I am serially monogamous.” More recently, “Moneyball” starring Brad Pitt is a funny and intelligent film about the art and modern science (cybermetrics) of baseball.