The world worships the game of “futbol”, which in America we call soccer. While soccer has enjoyed phenomenal growth as a popular sport for male and female children, and at the high school and college levels, the game has not succeeded on the professional level in the United States. In the rest of the world, however, soccer is the most rabidly followed of all sports.
“Futbol” has been ordained the “Beautiful Game” by the soccer mad fans addicted to the game. Because the use of hands to control the ball is not allowed, the game requires immense foot/eye co-ordination, speed, balance, aggression and a chess-like strategic vision of the complete field of play. The flow of the game, which can seem slow to casual observers, is part of the beauty of the game which heightens the passion the sport enjoys among its rabid followers.
I have lived in Europe and travelled widely, including second and third world countries. It is an amazing sight to see a country completely mesmerized, the population, men and women, old and young, glued to television screens, as key matches are contested. Games between clubs from different countries create an unbelievable outpouring of nationalism.
Soccer is a beautiful game. And if that claim is true, then I believe baseball is the perfect game. The pace of soccer and baseball are similar in that much of the play is spent in preparation for the difficult tasks of scoring, goals in soccer, runs in baseball. Both are total team games, and yet, both require individuals to perform at high levels. The shortstop in baseball is completely alone when attempting to field a hard hit ball, but he needs other players to perform their roles in order to throw out base runners.
The symmetry of baseball is amazingly perfect. The game has been idealized to have been invented by Abner Doubleday in an upstate New York field in the mid-19th century. Maybe, maybe not! However, whoever really crafted the rules of the game designed a field of play with perfect dimensions. The dimensions actually increase the drama of virtually every pitch and play.
Imagine if bases were closer, or further, than 90 feet apart. The bang-bang play at first would almost never happen. If bases were closer the stolen base would be automatic, even for slower runners. The bases are laid out in a diamond, which provides a perfect path for runners to pursue and fielders to target. The pitcher’s mound, a small hill, is 60 feet, six inches from the point of home plate. If the rubber on the mound, which the pitcher uses to gain purchase and leverage while throwing to the batter, were closer than 60′, 6″ the batter would have almost no chance of ever hitting the ball. If the rubber were further back the hitter would enjoy an unfair advantage.
The strike zone is designed to balance the opportunity for the pitcher and hitter to succeed on a competitive basis. Three strikes and the batter is called out; but an at bat can be extended indefinitely by fouling off pitches. Four balls and the hitter earns a free pass to first base, thereby forcing the pitcher to throw strikes or give up base runners which can lead to runs scored.
The most wonderful thing about the game of baseball is best described by the great Yogi Berra’s famous statement, “it ain’t over ’til it’s over”! Unlike every other team sport there is no time limit in baseball. The game does not end until the last out of the ninth inning is secured. It is possible, and does happen regularly, that a team can be seemingly so far behind in the run count that the outcome of the game seems inevitable, but a few hits, a few walks, an error and all of a sudden there is hope that the outcome will be reversed.
Spring training, baseball on radio, hot dogs and beer at the park and the opportunity to enjoy a game played at a leisurely pace on a warm summer night while kibitzing with friends all make baseball the “perfect game”. It is every bit as beautiful as soccer, but played well, there is no sport as perfectly crafted and structured as baseball.