Thursday, February 6, 2014

Five problems baseball can never solve

1.  The hazards of weather.

We have to begin here.  You can build a dome, you can build a retractable roof, you can play on artificial turf, but unless you're Storm from the X-Men, you can't do a thing about the weather.  Baseball is a picnic sport.  If it's too cold or too hot or a little wet or windy or cloudy, it darn well better be the postseason because otherwise it's not a positive experience.

That's the thing:  Consider fans.  Fans have options.  If it's a gorgeous day, heck, sure, take in a baseball game.  If it isn't a gorgeous day, it better be a terrific ballpark atmosphere -- otherwise you're sitting outside for three hours straight in overbearing heat or terrible cold.  (Even for a domed stadium, fans still have to drive through the rain in order to get to the park, which is enough to dissuade the casual ticket-holder.)  The game itself realizes this.  Rain?  Cover the field and wait until it stops.

It's no wonder that baseball has become regionalized, confined to the sections of the country (and the planet) that can offer longer stretches of warm weather.  In central NY, where I went to college, snow presented a major obstacle to baseball season in spring time.  Better to play in California or Arizona or Texas or Louisiana or Georgia or Florida where snow isn't an issue.

2.  The needs of the field.

Basketball needs only a hoop, preferably two.  Soccer?  Hey, put down a couple of jackets here and a couple of jackets there, and presto:  goalposts.  If a basketball court cracks, it's a problem, but you can still play on it.  If a soccer field becomes muddy or overgrown, it's a problem, but you can still kick a ball around.  A baseball field, with its bases and its infield and outfield separations, is far more specific and far tougher to improvise.  Hopefully you have a backstop, otherwise any pitch that escapes the catcher will just keep right on rolling.

Let's say you do have an honest to goodness baseball field -- darn it, it's going to require regular upkeep, or it'll look a mess in no time at all.  A poor mound affects the pitcher; a poor home plate area (with divots and valleys and hills in the batter's boxes) affects the hitter; and an overgrown infield, with rocks and pebbles, affects every grounder.  When combined with extreme weather, be it a drought or excess rains, any baseball field can turn into a mess in no time at all.

Let's say that the weather is good and a proper field is at hand...

3.  The minimum of equipment.

Basketball needs a basketball, football needs a football, soccer needs a soccer ball.  Baseball needs gloves for every player, bats, probably more than one baseball, and my gosh, some sort of measure of protective catching equipment, or else the poor kid is asking for an injury.  The days of stickball in the street, requiring only a stick and ball and a group of friends, are over.  Add in batting helmets, batting gloves, bases, and all of the assorted extras -- a weighted donut, maybe, or a rosin bag.  (How many players will be involved, too?  If you want to play a true game, that's 18 needed players at minimum.  This isn't quite a singles tennis match, let alone an easy pick-up game of basketball.)

4.  Throwing a baseball is unhealthy.

But now you're playing the game and enjoying yourself.  It's a shame, then, that the actual act of playing is destructive.  Throwing a baseball, that fundamental part of every play, requires such unnatural torque, that it harms both the shoulder and the elbow.  A bit of baseball wisdom that's passed around through every clubhouse is that every single pitcher, no matter how healthy he feels, has damage hidden inside his throwing arm/shoulder.  Here's a Tommy John surgery tracker via MLB Reports to let you know how widespread this is.  Even more worrisome:  Any single pitch might well be the one that ends a career.

Arm injuries don't just befall pitchers, either.  2012-2013 Lugnuts infielder Kellen Sweeney underwent reconstructive surgery in high school, while 2009-2010 Lugnuts catcher A.J. Jimenez required surgery in 2012.  Speaking of catchers...

5.  Playing catcher is unhealthy.

The bending, the crouching, the constant shift up and down, the catching of 93-mph fastballs, not all of which end up where they were intended:  catchers split nails, break knuckles, fracture fingers, jam wrists, and suffer untold amounts of back injuries.  Catching kills a player's legs, robs him of his energy, and contorts his fingers.  Every team needs a catcher, and every catcher understands the hazards of the trade.


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