In high school, I had a crush on a boy who was a big baseball fan. I’d watched the occasional Yankees or Mets contest on TV when growing up, but that didn’t translate to any real understanding of the game. So to impress and, I hoped, intrigue my classmate, I resolved to learn everything I could about baseball: its history, all the rules, the teams, the individual players. While my crush was to remain unrequited, I’d gotten myself hooked, and I’ve been a fan and student of the game ever since.
With the 2013 Major League Baseball (MLB) season set to start this evening, the time is right for my first baseball-themed post. In a 1996 piece in the New York Times Magazine titled “Making Art of Sport”, Michiko Kakutani wrote that “sports…can provide many of the same emotional satisfactions as art: the reassuring unities of time and place and action, sudden reversals of fortune and a cathartic close, not to mention the consolations of order and lots of vicarious thrills — and all this in real time….Sports offer a primal drama whose depiction of characters and character requires no metaphors, no allegories, no purple prose; a drama in which perfection is not an abstract concept but a palpable goal — a goal as simple as the perfect hit, the perfect shot, the perfect game.” (When I read this I substitute ‘baseball’ for ‘sports’).
Any professional athlete is skilled in ways that may or may not be unique to their sport, but to me–and this is a ‘N of 1’ opinion–the range of skills required to be a successful and well-rounded major league baseball player is unsurpassed by other sports. (Ted Williams famously said “I think without question the hardest single thing to do in sport is to hit a baseball”). So-called ‘five tool’ players–those who hit for average, hit for power, run fast, field their positions well, and have strong and accurate throwing arms–are among the best athletes you’ll see in any sport (think Henry Aaron, Willie Mays, Ken Griffey, Jr.).
So, to return to this blog’s raison d’être, i.e. sharing moments that inspire, that engage, that make you say “Wow!”, that are beautiful in some way, I’m sharing a spectacular defensive play made by the breakout player of the 2012 MLB season, Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels. Trout had one of the most jaw-droppingly accomplished rookie seasons ever, winning the American League Rookie of the Year and placing second in the Most Valuable Player voting. And he’s only 21; there’s no telling what he’ll do in his MLB career if he stays healthy. This catch is just one example of his extraordinary athleticism.
I think it’s likely that my favorite team, which plays its home games in the Bronx, won’t have a great season this year but hey, on opening day, hope springs eternal.
Trivia tidbit: the title of this post is also the title of a 1998 compilation of baseball writings by A. Bartlett Giamatti, Renaissance scholar (and man!), former president of Yale University, National League President, Commissioner of Baseball, and father of actor Paul Giamatti.