The AtHome Pilgrim

Musings at a Slower Pace


Philly area, Pennsylvania, USA
"Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita," I find myself still asking some of the same questions I did when I was just a punk kid. The Big Things confuse me. Fortunately, though, many little things delight and amuse me, and some Big Things--my wife, our kids, our bird and bunny visitors, food, baseball--make me very, very happy. In my pilgrimage, I try to be guided by the wisdom of dear old Auntie Mame: "Life is a banquet!"


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FEBRUARY 2, 2012 8:37AM

Super Bowl? Yeah, I Guess. But I Want Spring Training!

Rate: 13 Flag

Yes, this Sunday I will watch the Super Bowl, joining millions of other Americans in the mid-winter national holiday, when we try to see glimpses of an actual athletic contest hidden within the orgy of corporate greed, network self-promotion, and league arrogance. But my heart won’t be in it. Not just because the Eagles aren’t playing. Again. Not just because the Giants are playing in it—and are likely to win. Again. 

No, I’ll be watching without really caring because my heart will be listening for different sounds than shoulder pads smacking helmets, bones being cracked by collisions, hucksters huckstering, and Madonna screeching. My heart yearns to hear far-off whispers of ball smacking glove, muscles unhinging, oldsters telling stories to prevent bygone days from being gone, and umpires proclaiming my favorite two-word phrase, “Play ball.” 


Baseball is a circus, a dazzling display of simultaneous action taking place in multiple areas, creating a vivid family entertainment. Kids bring their gloves to the game hoping to snare a foul, or, even better, their hero’s dinger. Fathers bring daughters to teach them the hieroglyphics of the scorebook, the code which holds each player accountable and which, reread, starts the video of a brightly lit memory on an emerald field. 

Football is a gladiatorial combat, with behemoths wailing on each other with abandon until one leaves the field maimed and the other limps off in alleged triumph. Instead of kids, guys bring their drinking buddies. Stats must be maintained by official scorekeepers because in the jumble of piled bodies it is impossible to discern who made the tackle. There is no chance to replay the game yourself, because the key plays—as determined by someone else—are shown repeatedly for a week. 

What happens before games begin? Football players smack each other on the chest or smash helmeted head to helmeted head before jumping up and down in an adrenaline-loosed frenzy that looks like a shoal of piranha preparing to take on a school of sharks. Baseball players warm up, setting aside yesterday’s oh-fer or last start’s shellacking by focusing on their craft, invoking muscle memory.  

What happens after games end? Football players arrogantly thrust a forefinger into the air or self-righteously settle down on one knee in conspicuous prayer that reflects the self-serving belief that God was on their side. Baseball players pile on each other like a bunch of seven-year-olds, transported to some innocent and wise time when the spirit knows, because it has not yet been ill taught by elders, that there is no great significance in the moment except the sheer joy of it. 

Baseball is roundly abused for its steroid scandal, while football is given a free pass for its own steroid-stoked insanity, murder-implicated stars, and brutal destructiveness, which produces gimpy, arthritic, cardiac-challenged, obese middle-aged men (not to mention the fans) and depressed shells of once-proud warriors driven to suicide as a result of brain damage caused by repeated head trauma. 

Baseball is mocked as the game in which nothing happens, yet pitch follows pitch with a regular rhythm and relatively little delay. Football has so much downtime between plays that each can be reviewed in slow motion five times from six different angles.

The proportion of action to talk is also to baseball’s advantage in the weekly schedule. Baseball teams play nearly every day, providing fresh action, new artistry, compelling drama multiple times a week. Football fans watch their team for only three-plus hours of real playing and then are subjected to six and five-sixths’ days of jabber about what happened last game and what will happen in the next, whether the coach can make the right adjustments, whether this guy’s ankle will hold up or that guy’s back will keep him out, whether the runner can get over his tendency to fumble or the cornerback can learn to cover, whether . . . blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. (And when there’s a bye-week, the blather doubles.) 

Baseball is derided as the game ruled by obtrusive umpires who imperiously inject themselves in the game, yet football games are unendingly dissected for the penalty flags thrown or not thrown, the plays called back or let go, the field judgments overturned or upheld.  (And football, in its self-importance, labels these decisions like Supreme Court rulings.) 

Baseball is criticized for its close calls, but football relies on the implausible premise that a referee can dig through a ton of squirming, punching, eye-gouging, angry flesh to find the exact spot to place the ball. And he has to be able to do so, because when they bring out the chain to measure for a first down, he has to be able to see that the ball is precisely two inches short. 

Baseball’s lords do not bother to stop a player from wearing this shark-tooth necklace or that holey T-shirt or the other tar-stained helmet. Football’s lords fine a player when they are not amused by the way he wears a headband. 

Baseball’s field leaders are mocked for their lumpy, ungainly, unyouthful appearance in a uniform five decades and eighty pounds wrong. Football’s leaders are celebrated for their arrogant dismissal of criticism, their embrace of obsessive-compulsive disorder, and their unhealthy workaholism. Who would you rather sit around and listen to tell stories, Charlie Manuel or Bill Belichick? Who would you expect to learn more about life from, Mike Shanahan, who knows how to win as long as he coaches a hall-of-famer, or Jim Leyland, who has built teams from the ground up only to see them broken apart, mentored young guys and massaged ego-ridden veterans, seen perfect games vaporized on a bad call, and witnessed nearly as many losses as he has wins? 

Which game promotes a sportsmanlike attitude—football, where fans are encouraged to scream as loud as possible when the other team has the ball, or baseball, where fans give standing ovations to a visiting starter’s no-hitter? 

Which sport is more commercial, baseball, with its logo’d signs strewn around the ballpark, or football, which trumpets its record-setting rights fees, commercial fees, and personal-seat license fees and which, if you say the words “Super Bowl” without permission, will sue your ass? 

Which sport is more human, football, where players come in three sizes—Goliath, Gargantua, and Leviathan—and where they hide themselves behind masks and padding; or baseball, where MVPs can be five-foot eight, star pitchers can look like pears (Mickey Lolich), and all the guys’ faces can be seen (not always fortunately: Lolich again), and they all run around in their pajamas? 

Which gospel has more wisdom—football’s Stress on Success (“Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing”) or baseball’s Call to Have Fun (“It’s a beautiful day for a ballgame; let’s play two”).  

Yeah, I’ll watch the Super Bowl. But the day I’m really looking forward to is two weeks out. February 19. Pitchers and catchers.  


Words © 2012 AtHome Pilgrim. 

All Rights Reserved.  

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Second the motion AtHome. You must have seen George Carlin's comparison of the two sports, right?
You'll be shocked to know you had me at the title. . . .

But watching the 60 minutes piece on the football commissioner, mentally comparing him to the bumbling Bud Selig---watching the game I love with every ounce of my soul we run by an insider boys club straight into the ground---I am WORRIED about baseball!

So much of what I love about the game is tied up in the past.

If ever there was a time for the Stockdale paradox ---it's now with baseball. In other words, the game is a mess---but the game WILL endure. We'll always have our share of charlatans and entitled scions (the Chicago Cubs are now a toy bought by the founder of Ameritrade for his kids--busy looking for taxpayer money to make them richer) we will always have our share of those guys.

But the game will last forever. That greenfield moment in the sun. Ernie is 81 now. So let's play two! The really amazing thing about baseball is despite the crap---it goes on.

Pitchers and catchers report. One of my favorite sentences EVER!
I agree with Chicago Guy---you had me with your header. In football you get fined for not wearing your socks right. In baseball you can wear your pants to the tops of your shoes or to just below your knees. You can show off your "stirrups" or wear solid color "hose". You can wear "sleeves" or go barearmed reminiscent of Maris' cut-short sleeves.
Yeah, "let's play two"! A sentiment that has never been uttered about football.
Okay....I get like baseball better than football. To be completely impartial though, almost all the negatives you pointed out in football can be found by a passionate football fan in the game of baseball. Personally, I am a bigger fan of Football than I am of Baseball, but I find something to like in almost any sport. I will admit that I would rather sit around and listen to well spun baseball tales than Football tales and I expect to hear some really good ones coming from you this year, old friend.
Baseball is toooooooooooooo slooooooooooooooooow. I loved it when I played it, but MLB is for the birds. I will go to minor league games.
I'm with you on this one. I loved and played baseball when I was much younger. Pitched a no-hitter once. Only thrill bigger than that was hitting home run over dead center field--only one I ever hit.

Please keep this fine writing coming.
You had me at spring training.
Baseball is my favorite sport by far, for those reasons you mention above and more--but I'll be watching the big game this week too in support of a good friend who is a Giants fan.
May I also toss in the number of games played. Physical limitations (needed recovery time from the collisions) keep the season to 16 games. The baseball schedule is literally 10 times longer. And still, after all those games, there's usually a contested playoff spot or two during the last week. And then there was last season, after all the effort put into 162 games, a couple teams' entire seasons came down to one or two key at-bats on the last day.

Baseball is timeless.
Frankly, I have a serious, SERIOUS beef with the Super Bowl. Wasn't it enough that they hogged the airwaves from October through January? Obviously not, since they're encroaching on FEBRUARY.

Just stand back you shoulder padded hulks--FEBRUARY IS MINE! No, I do not want my birthday party turned into a damned SUPER BOWL party!

But then, when it comes to professional sports, my interest comes to a screeching halt after Figure Skating, Curling and Conquistador Croquet.
Abrawang: Of course. One of his most brilliant bits. "Home."

JW: Amen!

ChiGuy: Having lived through the Don Mossi (another ugly) era in Detroit and the Steve Jeltz and Marvin Freeman eras in Philly, I can say that some day it can get better. Theo should do you well; keep the faith. Anyway, it's just a game, sabe? Here's to Ernie!

Walt: Indeed. The players need a week (and some shots) to recover from the last game.

David: Truth is, I do like football. And as the tag says, some of my tongue was cheekward. But, you know. I LOVE baseball! I'll try to oblige you with some good stories.

OES: De gustibus, sheepie.

JAB: Wow, you have two achievements I never managed. Did pull off a great catch once. Once.

Nick: Amen.

sophieh: Good of you to take one for the team.

Stim: Timeless indeed. After all, a game could conceivably go on forever!

Shiral: I don't know. Conquistador croquet sounds potentially unsettling. BTW, my mother's birth month was Feb also. Knew there was something right about you!
Good write.

I love baseball (though my interest in the NFL surfaced again, B.F. Skinner-like, when the 49ers got to the conference championship game). As I once said (in fact, in my first-ever EP writeup), that game most emulates life than any other sport.

And that is why it's so darned interesting.
I second that emotion!
Baseball rules and so do you.