American sport is all the rage at the moment. Basketball has always been big but its starting to feel like everyone is following the NFL as well. Football season is now over, however the Patriots won the Superbowl and Sherman is forever immortalised as the face that launched a thousand memes. Of course, anyone with any sense has now refocused on Australia and the AFL but for those heathens who still desire their fix of foreign sport, Major League Baseball has some exciting possibilities. Before you get really keen, however, there are some basic questions you’re going to have to answer.
1. Do you have any understanding of baseball?
No? Perfectly fine, almost no one does. Basically speaking, the pitcher throws the ball into an invisible “strike zone” at over 140km/h and the batter tries to hit it into the playing area. If you hit it into the diamond (round/rectangular ovals are for sissies) you sprint like a bat out of hell about 30m to first base. You probably won’t make it because every single fielder can throw 140km/h as well and they will get the ball there before your legs will. If you get it out of the diamond (a home run), you can take a leisurely trot around the bases admiring your ample gluteal muscles in the massive scoreboard screens.
The Americans are incapable of getting along with each other, so there are two different leagues (for no good reason, the rules are basically the same). The winner of the American League plays the winner of the National League at the end of the season in “The World Series”. There is one Canadian team so conflating the United States with the entire world is slightly less offensive than it might otherwise be. It’s basically like the Superbowl – except that there are seven different games. And Katy Perry and Left Shark are never invited to perform at any of them.
Ignore the commentators completely. There are many reasons for this, the most significant being that American announcers are trained in inanity and hyperbole. If by some miracle they do talk about the sport, you’ll be completely lost. Baseball stats are calculated out of 1000, probably for the same reason the Yanks insist on staying imperial, and the language is more abstruse than that used by your average lawyer. To give you an example, a batter who gets on base one in every three “plate appearances” will have an “on base percentage” of .333. The same batter will have a batting average of .250 if he gets on base one in four “at bats”. And those two stats are not mutually exclusive. Utterly befuddled? It’s going to take a lot of Googling.
2. Do you care about drug use?
MLB is not quite at the level of Le Tour de Pharmacy but Lance Armstrong would find plenty of friends in the world of baseball. Many of the game’s greatest stars, from Tom House and Hank Aaron to Alex Rodriguez and Matt Lawton, have used everything from steroids to meth. The new drug policy may be making a difference but it’s probably safest to accept that the people you’re watching are chemically engineered übermenschen and just enjoy the results.
3. What team do you support (root for)?
Ok, right off the bat (pun intended), don’t you freaking dare even consider supporting the Yankees. Supporting the Yankees is a bit like supporting the Pies – everyone hates you and they are correct in doing so.
If you want to pick your team based solely on the name, I can suggest the Milwaukee Brewers because a) no Australian will know how to pronounce it and b) beer. The main drawback, of course, is that the Brewers have a weak bullpen (pitching roster) and their hitters aren’t fantastic either.
If you like underdogs, the Chicago Cubs are probably the one to pick. They haven’t won the World Series since 1909 but they are looking decent this year so you may in fact be picking a winner.
Other options include last year’s World Champs the San Francisco Giants, the ever-threatening Detroit Tigers or the Miami Marlins, owners of what is unarguably the most absurd stadium in all of baseball.
4. Do you really want to wait 6 months and 162 games for a result?
Like chance? Like fluke victories? Wrong sport.
The long season means that by the time we reach the World Series, the teams with the most depth and the most consistent roster are on top. Teams will have good days and bad days but when each team plays 162 games, things average out. The World Series itself is a little more haphazard but even then, we’re talking about seven games not one. Underdogs tend to lose in the long run. Probably a bad sign if you’re rooting for the Brewers.
Following baseball is a little bit like watching the tracking for Inward Bound. It takes an age, it’s often really hard to tell who is who and you spend half your time really confused about why the hell someone ran from one place to another and then turned around and went back. It’s ok. Embrace the confusion. You’ll get over it. And if you do accept my challenge and you can sit through six months of baseball and still give a damn about who wins at the end, I’ve probably just ruined your life. You’re hooked, son.