On Sunday, March 30, Major League Baseball will begin its 2014 regular season. Yes, I am aware that the Dodgers and Diamondbacks played a couple of games in the land down under March 22 and 23. From what I understand, vegemite sandwiches were all the rage. I even heard that the kangaroo tastes like chicken, though I have no desire to throw one on the grill anytime soon.
Baseball is America’s National Pastime. It has been played - pretty much in the form we know it today — since the 1840s when Henry Chadwick laid out the first rules. Sure, there have been changes along the way. Equipment has improved and the fields are better maintained than even 30 years ago. But it is still a game that is played with 90-foot bases and nine players to a side.
Baseball is a grand old game. It is an acquired taste. If you don’t grow up playing it and watching it, you probably don’t understand the subtle nuances and you might get lost. Most everyone knows three strikes and you’re out. But did you know that there are 23 different ways to reach first base? Were you aware that it’s possible for a pitcher to earn a victory without ever throwing a pitch?
Baseball is the only sport where the defense has the ball. Think about it, the defense has a huge advantage in baseball. Almost nothing happens until the pitcher releases the ball from his hand. When he does, all craziness begins. It can be as entertaining as Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First” routine.
Baseball also has Babe Ruth. I believe the Bambino is still the most well-known sports personality in the world. And he’s been dead for 66 years.
I challenge you to ask anybody — boy or girl — older than the age of 16 who Babe Ruth is and they will likely tell you — without hesitation — that he was a baseball player. They may even add that he played for the Yankees.
The Babe’s fame is not confined to America. When I was in Europe two summers ago I asked a number of folks if they knew who the Babe was. Only a few of them gave me the deer in the headlights look.
I am aware that a whole new generation of Americans believes that stars like Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, LeBron James and Peyton Manning trump the Babe in terms of popularity. Those Millennials would be wrong. Remember, even they know about the Bambino, despite playing X-Box 12 hours a day.
Here are a couple of predictions for you to chew on for this season.
The Colorado Rockies will win between 81 and 86 games and the Colorado Springs Sky Sox will advance to the postseason for the first time since 1997.
The Yankees will win the American League East and the Kansas City Royals will win the AL Central — advancing to the playoffs for the first time since 1985.
Speaking of the Yankees, they will win a Classic seven-game World Series over the Los Angeles Dodgers.
I mentioned earlier that there are 23 different ways to reach first base. Here they are:
Walk; intentional walk; hit by pitch, dropped third strike; failure to deliver pitch in 20 seconds; catcher interference; fielder interference; spectator interference; fan obstruction; fair ball hits umpire; fair ball hits runner; fielder obstructs runner; pinch-runner; fielder’s choice; force out at another base; preceding runner put-out allows batter to reach first; sacrifice bunt fails to advance runner; sacrifice fly dropped; runner called out on appeal; error; four illegal pitches; single; game suspended with runner on first (that player is traded prior to the makeup game, meaning a new player is allowed to take his place).
Here is one way a pitcher can be credited with a victory without throwing a pitch. First of all, he must enter the game as a reliever with his team trailing or tied and a least one runner on base.
Let’s say he picks off the base runner for the final out of the inning. In the next half of the inning his team scores the go-ahead run and never relinquishes the lead. He would then qualify as the winning pitcher.
This scenario has happened many times in the majors. Rockies pitcher Alan Embree accomplished the feat in 2009.