Friday, May 07, 2010

SPORTS>>Baseball is most lively viewed live

Leader sports editor

One of my co-workers, Mike Kwangkeow, threw me a curve the other day.

“Hey Todd,” he said. “What’s so exciting about baseball?”

Mike is one of the designers at our newspaper but he ought to be a reporter because it was a good question.

Mike is 20 and his family is from Thailand. They run an 18-star restaurant in Sherwood and you should go check it out, unless you have a problem with really good food.

Mike graduated from Little Rock Parkview with a double major in art and science and he currently attends Pulaski Tech.

Recently, Mike saved himself $4,000 by building his own computer, or at least that’s what he said.

I personally think Mike has been working on a giant robot he will use to take over the world.

Mike got his U.S. citizenship last year, which means he can travel safely in Arizona as long as he carries his documentation. He played pickup basketball and apparently led his team in fouls and fouls attempted.

But when it comes to baseball, Mike, despite his incredible smarts, is looking for a little help in understanding the allure of his new country’s national pastime.

“What’s so exciting about baseball?” Indeed.

Mike’s first problem was that he tried to watch the game on TV.

TV and baseball, in my opinion, have been a bad marriage. Other than exposing the game to a lot of people, the idiot box does nothing to enhance a fan’s enjoyment.

While generating whopping revenues for the major leagues, television means more night games for a sport best enjoyed in sunshine and it means more commercial breaks, which have led playoff games to last well past midnight Eastern time, and sometimes Central time.

How do you interest someone in a game when he can’t stay up to finish it?

I won’t commit the time-honored sin of degrading one sport to build up another. I love football, but compared to baseball, it stands as a good example of a a successful marriage between a game and entertainment technology.

All the graphics and hyperbolic announcers keep things moving, and the commercials distract us from seeing just how much standing around goes on in a football game. The moments of action are lively indeed, but I read last season the average NFL game only contains between 11-13 minutes of real playing time.

Unlike football, played on a rectangular grid, baseball doesn’t fit very well onto the TV screen. The game is one of our few major sports in which you don’t possess the ball to score; in fact, the farther you hit it from the starting point the better off you are.

So where do you point the camera? At the hitter, the pitcher or the guy who is chasing the ball?

So Mike, my first bit of advice is for you to hop over to one of the local high schools or get down to Dickey-Stephens Park in North Little Rock and see real, professional, wood-bat baseball.

From the stands you can see a long drive rattling around in the left-field corner, the fielder in pursuit and the baserunner digging around second and being waved home by his third-base coach. You can see the play at the plate shaping up and appreciate just how close it’s going to be.

You might see the runner slam into the catcher as he tries to break up the throw home, and you’ll be reminded that, yes, baseball is a contact sport.

At a live game, if you have a good seat at least, you can hear the air sizzle and the glove pop when a pitcher delivers a 98 mph fastball.

At a live game you can appreciate the ballet that is a well-turned double play and see just how quickly a guy can get down the line to first, or what a challenging distance 90 feet can be.

At a live game you can be part of a ninth-inning, foot-stomping crowd too excited to sit as it watches a pitcher clinging to a one-run lead with the bases full, the count 3-2 and no place to put ‘em.

Baseball is exciting because it’s hard. Well-played it looks easy, poorly played and you see just how tough it is.

The difficulty is what makes the great plays seem like miracles.

I’m going to give way to a reliever to wrap this up, Mike. Here’s what the great American writer John Updike said about the great American game and I hope, when you make it to the ballpark, you remember this:

“Baseball was invented in America, where beneath the good cheer and sly jazz, the chance of failure is everybody’s right, beginning with baseball.”