From the ‘mound’ (a small hill) to the ‘bullpen’ (far, far away), the game is a simple one. But don’t forget the food.
By Chris Erskine August 19, 2009 11:52 a.m.
Baseball is a simple game with a million rules, all subject to the interpretation of four blind but very assertive people known as “umpires.” These umpires are usually assisted by 30,000 to 40,000 beery-eyed witnesses, all of whom are sure they saw the close play better — from a quarter-mile away. They are blind too.
One of the first things you notice is that the players often wear white, representing purity and innocence of spirit. This is one of many baseball traditions. White also shows the dirt best. To stay loose, the players scratch themselves a lot, but only when the TV camera is on them. No one knows why.
A game begins with a group song, then a man goes to a little hill. His purpose is to throw the ball past an opposing player, from his little hill, sometimes called a “mound,” to the catcher, who takes a position behind home plate. So yes, technically, they are throwing the ball out of bounds with every single pitch.
When a “batter” misses the ball three times, he is considered “out,” and it is baseball tradition for him to bark something rude to the vision-impaired (blind) person behind home plate. But not too rude. If you bark something too rude, you are asked to please leave, thank you very much. As you can tell already, baseball is a very passive-aggressive experience.
Now, if a batted ball lands on or within the chalk lines, the batter runs counterclockwise in sequence to the four bases. Why you would want to run in a big circle, basically getting nowhere, is one of the glories of the game and is considered a template for life itself. First, second and third base are also popular euphemisms for sexual conquest, assuming you have such things in your life.
As with romance, there are many ways to be called out in baseball. You can strike out, as mentioned earlier, or you can get tagged out. Various scenarios involve tagging second, third or home, providing that it’s a “force play” situation. In double plays, the shortstop doesn’t even need to have the ball when he swipes second base. He just needs to pretend.
Are you with us so far? Good.
When a team records three outs, what happens next is that all the fans get up and go to the snack bar for ridiculously overpriced food. In another baseball tradition, items that are supposed to be hot are cold (hot dogs), and items that are supposed to be cold are hot (beer).
Fans will also use this time to stand in line at the restroom (which is free but probably not for long).
By the time the fans return, it is often about the fifth inning. There is usually much circling of the bases by the batters about this time, which makes everyone happy, except the manager and the pitching coach, who are all the time going out to the mound to consult with the pitcher and to make sure he is not drunk or something.
If the manager is unhappy, or the pitcher is drunk, the manager will motion for another pitcher to come in, someone who is worse than the one before.
At that point, another new player trots in, usually from the farthest point possible from the pitching mound itself. They call this distant area “the bullpen.” The journey is basically like going from the Continental terminal for a connecting flight to the American terminal — except it takes longer.
Even after the new pitcher finally arrives, the game cannot resume yet, for although he has been warming up, this new pitcher needs to warm up some more.
No one knows why.
After a long delay, the game begins again, and this new pitcher will often face only one or two batters before the manager will “yank” him for another pitcher, because the next batter is right-handed, and he doesn’t want his lefty to face a righty because batters see the ball better when it is thrown by someone of the opposite persuasion.
Still with us? Amazing.
In almost every game, there will be a big flare-up, a batter will be hit by a pitch or maybe a “balk” will be called. No one completely understands balks, except for three old-timers and they are all living in an assisted-care facility in Palm Springs. So whenever a balk is called, there is much discussion.
Discussions like this are frequent in baseball, and occasionally venomous. Anger is essential to the game of baseball and provides much of the visual entertainment. Anger is almost as important as eating, which provides the main action.
Honestly, if you took away the food, no one would go to a baseball game at all.