Baseball is back! After waiting through an offseason that felt longer than a Steve Trachsel start, baseball fans can rejoice that actual games have started once again.
Even though I do a weekly baseball podcast and follow the sport throughout the offseason, the beginning of the season always seems to surprise me. Not “surprise” in the sense that April 3rd caught me off guard (I mean, we had a countdown page on our website), but more so in my emotional response to baseball being back. At the risk of sounding cheesy, Opening Day reminded me afresh why I love baseball. It’s as if over the course of the long winter I forgot why I love the sport so much.
So, why baseball? Here are three things I'm loving about the game as another season begins.
Apart from the six teams trying to lose in the National League (Peter won’t let me use the word “tank”), almost every team has a conceivable shot to make the postseason. As Rob Manfred pointed out in his Opening Day letter to fans, 24 teams have made the playoffs in the last five seasons. Who saw the Astros or Mets coming last year? Certainly none of the ESPN baseball “experts”? Cubs, Cardinals, White Sox, Rays, Diamondbacks, Yankees, and 18 other teams... they all have a path to the playoffs. And if you make the playoffs, you have a path to the World Series. The same can’t be said of the NBA or NFL, where the top 3-4 teams are leaps and bounds better than the rest of the league. Before the season, we knew with near certainty that the Broncos, Patriots, and Packers were playoff teams and likely bound for the Super Bowl. The same idea applies to the NBA this year with the Warriors, Spurs, Thunder, and Cavaliers.
I enjoy reading the writing of baseball more than any other sport. The amount of high-quality, well-researched baseball journalism is remarkable. Baseball Prospectus, FanGraphs, The HardBall Times, Baseball Reference... the list could go on and on. With the amount of data available and the complexity of the game, baseball encourages nuanced reporting. For example, a media figure like Stephen A. Smith would never “fit” as a baseball guy. In a sport where even the best teams lose 40% of their games and the best players get out in 65% of their at-bats, hot takes are harder to come by. What you see in one particular game or performance isn’t always indicative of a larger story, which makes digesting quality reporting absolutely necessary.
This may be where I lose some non die-hard baseball fans. In my opinion, baseball is beautiful to watch. The aesthetics of the actual playing surface—the vast expanse of green in the outfield and the perfectly manicured infield—are pleasing to the eye. And as more and more teams build new stadiums, a majority of parks have gorgeous architecture and unique features. To play the comparison game one more time, you just can’t say the same of NBA arenas or NFL stadiums. No one walks away from a Bears game commenting on the beauty of Soldier Field. But after visiting Wrigley Field for the first time, you can’t help but talk about the green ivy or centerfield scoreboard.
This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list, just a few of the things on my mind as the season gets underway. Here’s to an unpredictable, well-covered, beautifully played 2016 season!