A lot of people think baseball is boring. I get that.
Baseball is different than any other sport. It can be agonizingly slow, accentuated by heartstopping moments of pure joy, heartbreaking losses, and near misses. You can get muddled up in the slow part.
Baseball is like life. Life is routine, you do the same things over and over again and occasionally, the routine gets broken up by a celebration, a tragedy, or a near miss. And most of the time, normalcy resumes.
But those joys, sorrows, and near misses are stories.
Everyone has a tale to tell. All the nameless, faceless people you encounter every day at work, on the street, or on the internet are just people until you learn their stories. Then they become friends.
Baseball is About Stories
As the skipper in Bull Durham says, “This is a very simple game. You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball.” Players all blend together until you know their stories. It’s the stories that make baseball come alive.
With basketball, the pace is so fast there’s no time to tell the stories, So the media takes it up, complete with the drama that creates ratings in a 24-hour news world.
A football game has too many players to relate to because a football game is war. On the battlefield, you don’t have individual soldiers. You have regiments, companies, and battalions working together seamlessly.
But baseball’s battles are more like duels. One batter faces off against one pitcher. Nobody else gets involved until the pitch is hit or missed. Each individual effort leads to the team’s victory or defeat. If you don’t know anything about those individuals, yeah, it drags.
The pace of the game makes room for the stories. No other sport has that in the same way as baseball, as long as you have a good storyteller.
Vin Scully: The Master Storyteller
That’s what Vin Scully did so well. Every evening like Shaharazade, he’d embrace those lulls and use them to captivate the listener. For 67 years, for over two hours a night, he turned faceless players into real human beings for millions of listeners and viewers.
Even though players came and went, he would weave them into the endless tradition of the team and the entire game of baseball. And not just Dodger stories. Whatever team was on the field, Vin would happily tell those men’s tales too. Vin didn’t just make Dodger fans. He created lovers of the game of baseball.
Through times of war and peace, unrest and prosperity, Vin would weave enthralling narratives that took people out of their living rooms and into the stands for a couple of hours every evening.
He’d share how Jackie Robinson chose to retire rather than continue his career in Giants colors (Jackie didn’t even like Halloween because the colors were orange and black).
Or as Paul LoDuca approached the plate, Vin would point out that you could see him write his mom’s initials in the dirt before he put his catcher’s mask on. Then he’d tell how Lucy LoDuca, the devoted mom, would pitch beans to Paul when he was just a lad and that was why he was so good at seeing the ball and making contact.
Or he’d tell how Tommy Lasorda decided that Orel Hershiser’s nickname should be “Bulldog,” not because Orel was tenacious, but because he needed to be.
He might even take five minutes to enlighten us on the history of beards since so many players seemed to be sporting them.
Sometimes the harsh realities of American life seeped onto the baseball field, but Vin always found the glorious epiphany, like when Vin called the 1974 game when Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s home run record after months of receiving hate mail and death threats:
“What a marvelous moment for baseball, what a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia, what a marvelous moment for the country and the world. A black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol … Henry Aaron has eclipsed the mark set by Babe Ruth.”
The internet is full of stories right now about this amazing man and how he inspired a love for our national pastime like no one else could. He was a poet and a gentleman. There will never be another man like him in baseball or otherwise.
But for millions of people, including me, he was the one who shared the stories that made America’s otherwise boring national pastime come alive. He gave me and my family a priceless gift. It’s a beautiful game. I will always be thankful.
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