As I sat in the stands behind first base last week, taking in both some spring sunshine and a West Coast Conference game, I was reminded again of the complexity of baseball, and the relatively few fans who understand even a fraction of what is going on in front of them. Wes Westrum, a catcher for the old New York Giants, said that “baseball is like Church: Many attend but few understand.” Amen.
I don’t claim to be an “educated spectator” of baseball. That simply takes more time and concentration than I can currently afford. But I do know enough to realize that there is a lot that I don’t know. You don’t have to see the entire iceberg to know that the majority of what is happening is going on under the surface, invisible to the untrained eye. And the more you know, the more interesting the game becomes.
By the way, sometimes sitting next to a baseball novice is fun.
The woman behind me screamed, “throw the ball, throw the ball!” when the shortstop fielded a routine grounder, contemplated the ball in his right hand for a half second, and then easily threw the runner out at first. Uneducated fans, in small doses, can bring a smile to your face. Ignorant fans, on the other hand, are just . . . well, ignorant. Like the fat guy in the stands yelling “anyone could have made that throw.” Or the obnoxious guy shouting, “just hit the ball!”, as if that hadn’t occurred to the man in the batter’s box.
Like so many other sports, baseball can look deceptively easy from the couch or the bleachers. That is one of the reasons it is fun to watch. The average fan can imagine participating, even if they have never put a hand in a mitt.
George Will once wrote, “to be an intelligent fan is to participate in something. It is an activity, a form of appreciating that is good for the individual’s soul, and hence for society.” Baseball is certainly one of the activities where the more you know, the more you appreciate.