Baseball and the World Cup

WFNY welcomes back Frank Ryan with another of his fantastic guest articles.

Read more from Ryan here: Musings of a Champion

My passion for soccer has been roundly mocked since my earliest youth. Running onto the school bus in Northeast Ohio shouting “Did you see Maradona last night?” was the easiest way to earn an empty seat on which I could spread out my fresh edition of The Plain Dealer sports section that I had smuggled out the front door before Dad could finish his bowl of Clusters. I have litigated the merits of The Beautiful Game with my buddies more times than Donald Trump has ruined steak. It is the great failure of my life that I have been more successful in persuading my boyhood friends that warm beer and a month old cigarette in the back of the schoolyard in sixth grade was a good idea than getting them to even somewhat appreciate Futbol. In other words, I’m as lonely in this pursuit now as I was then. “Nobody cares, Frank. Can we go back to discussing important stuff. Ya’ think the Browns will go 4-and-12 or 5-and-11?”

An interesting thing happens every four years. There is this thing called the World Cup. It’s kind of important in the global community and has evolved into something that people notice in this country. For a month, soccer goes from the somewhat stale last Twizzler in the bag that makes you think of perhaps going for an apple to a freshly opened package with that strawberry smell you can actually taste in your mouth. It’s not the first choice in the candy cabinet, but it’s definitely in the conversation.1

I appreciated the added interest and extended my assistance to all the neophytes. I really liked being important. I was like the guy at a trade show who had a smoothie machine by his booth. Everyone wanted what I was serving. I did not tire of explaining to my constituents why that was offsides or why sometimes you get a free kick and sometimes a penalty kick is awarded. All of it is great but largely misses the point. Soccer is awesome because the game is perfect. It’s not about the pageantry, the painted faces, and the “Ole” chants. It’s cool that strangers who hail from the same nationality, soaked with beer and sweat, packed thousands deep in a huge town square in a country that no one ever talks about, cry tears of joy on each others’ shoulders. Who isn’t enthralled by the unrestrained emotion depicted on hundreds of YouTube videos when a deciding goal is scored in injury time.2 I get it, and I’m here for all of it.

Don’t miss out, however, on the beauty of the game itself. Appreciate the nuances. A wonderfully placed through ball. A kick lacking correct pace turned into a wasted possession. A goalkeeper making a move a millisecond late is a legitimate scoring chance created even if the shot rolls wide. It’s not 11 men kicking a ball around. When the goal is finally scored it’s a synthesis of perfect movement, perfect pace, and a perfectly executed finish. Watching soccer properly is watching a Rube Goldberg machine. Seeming simplicity built on complicated small nuances that make it scintillating to those whose eyes are open.

And that, folks, brings to me around to baseball.3 I am hearing all the complaints. There are no balls in play. It’s all about strikeouts and home runs. There is not enough action. Everyone is sitting around on the field waiting for something, anything, to just happen already. Baseball is as antiquated as a guy printing out MapQuest directions to get to the nearest Blockbuster.

You are watching it wrong. Baseball isn’t about the thunderclap in midst of a boring everyday rainfall. It’s about the clouds forming a system, a drizzle turning slowly into a frantic patter. Press your face against the window and really watch it unfold. Understand that Andrew Miller’s letter-high heater on the inner third set up the filthy slider down and away. Appreciate the curve that #JRaMVP spit on in a 2-2 count that turned into a inside fastball deposited into the right field stands. Look at Frankie Lindor bobbing around short; knowing instinctively where the ball is going because of the location of a pitch. See how Klubes is changing tactics every time around an order. He is thinking. Think along with him. Your boredom will begin to fade. It’s not a Bruce Willis action movie. It’s Inception.

I can go on about how that’s what we are missing in life as well. How nuance is getting lost. How we get caught up in loud, noisy static and miss the hum of everyday beauty. But I will leave that for now. Just consider this a plea to really watch a wonderful game. Watch it with your brain, add some rabid emotion, and you will be anxiously waiting daily for the clock to strike seven. “Play ball” as it was meant to be played. Baseball, my friends, and soccer for that matter, is beautiful just the way it is.

  1. Yeah, I like Twizzlers a lot. []
  2. I know, I know. There has to be a better system for figuring out injury time. Randomly holding up a placard with the amount of beers the nearest guy in the stands consumed doesn’t really cut it. []
  3. Because as my buddy Jim Pete is fond of saying, everything starts and ends with baseball. []