Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Sports column

April 19, 2014

Baseball continues to endure despite the detractors

BLUEFIELD — The demise of baseball has been greatly exaggerated.

Turn on a sports talk show or check out the Internet and there are oodles of so-called experts going on about how baseball is in trouble.

These are, no doubt, football fans. Aren’t they all?

You have heard it all before. Baseball is too slow, the games are too long, the TV ratings are bad, soccer is now the sport of choice for kids, the game has been stained by labor unrest, steroids, escalating ticket prices and  enormous salaries, not to mention the evils of the designated hitter, Interleague play and now instant replay.

Too often it is easy to get drawn into the same argument. Then, go to an actual game — or two — and you realize, it’s all just a bunch of talk.

Having been to a pair of games on Friday, thoroughly enjoying both of the and then writing about them, I can honestly say that baseball is just fine the way it is.

True, it wasn't professional baseball, which is what draws the most attention, but baseball is baseball, no matter how it is played. Some sports just aren’t as good on TV, and baseball is one of them.

There is nothing, absolutely nothing, like being at the old ball game. It is a shame so many baseball games are played around here with most of the audience disguised as empty seats. Get out of the house and see a game.

Who cares if the game doesn’t have the violence of football or the slam dunks in basketball. Hey, hockey moves faster than either of those and baseball is still more popular than pucks.

What is wrong with going to a baseball game, sitting back, letting it unfold and just enjoy it for what it is. Baseball doesn’t have a clock, and that is part of the game’s allure.

Why rush? In this social media-driven world, the lack of patience is remarkable. Football and basketball try to squeeze their game into a certain time frame, usually to fit a TV schedule, but baseball has its own pace, and is better for it.

There are times when a lopsided game can get a little long, but that is no different in any other sport. It happens, not every game is going to be a nail-biter in any sport.

There is just something about baseball that has always grabbed my attention. The two games I saw on Friday reminded me why baseball really is the greatest game of them all.

First, Bluefield stopped to play Richlands on their way back from a trip to Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge, and could have easily went through the motions just to get home.

Nope, these Beavers played to win, and did, holding off the Blue Tornado 7-6 with R.J. Bourne throwing 146 pitches, including striking out the last two batters with the tying and winning run on base.

It was two high school baseball teams playing for the love of the game in front of a sparse crowd.

At least one person — me — enjoyed every bit of it.

Then came Bluefield College at Bowen Field against Cumberland University, which has long been one the top programs in all of NAIA. That says a lot since there are nearly 300 schools in this country playing in that division of college baseball.

Once again, Bowen Field was nearly empty, but at least one — me — enjoyed every bit of it, even as I was writing the other story while watching this game at the same time.

There is an old saying in baseball that when a player is having a bad game, the ball will find him over and over and over again.

No one knew that better on this night than Sawyer McLamb.

The first batter of the game reached base on an error by McLamb. He had three more in the game, and another shot hit up the middle deflected off his glove in the top of the 12th that gave Cumberland the lead.

Princeton Rays’ General Manager Jim Holland likes to say about baseball that you can’t decide who will get to the last shot in a game or carry the football in the final seconds.

Nope, there is order to baseball, and it has to be followed.

First, Tyler Timmer — who is playing 3,000 miles from his San Diego home — hit his second game-tying home run of the game to tie the score at 5-5.

The Rams put two more batters on with two outs.

Guess who was scheduled to hit next.

It is amazing sometimes how the baseball gods work. Up stepped McLamb, who seemed to have every ball hit to him, and he, and everyone else, took take a deep breath when he tried to make a play on the ball.

On a night when McLamb probably wanted to climb under second base, the winning run stood on second base. It didn’t look good, with McLamb going down to an 0-2 count, with the 13th inning likely to occur soon.

Instead, McLamb lined a single to center field, Jacob Wright hustled in from second, and suddenly McLamb went from what would surely have been a restless night of sleep to being the hero for the night.

That is what makes baseball so special.

It was a long day of baseball with lots of inches dedicated to a pair of really fun games played in front of sparse audiences at both venues. Both games, at least on this day, were free, and it was worth so much more.

Being an avid baseball fan, there is nothing better than to go to a game and then try my best to put what happened into words that do it justice.

Rarely do I ever achieve that goal, but it is an honor to try.

Baseball is still a great sport, despite what you might hear. Just because some folks don’t like it doesn’t mean it’s a game in decline.

A few years ago I was in Abingdon covering a soccer game for the newspaper in Bristol, with a much more entertaining baseball game going on behind me. No one had come close to scoring with kids running all of the place, but not getting anywhere.

It is like watching kids at an Easter egg hunt.

One of the soccer moms sitting near me turned to another soccer mom and blurted out, 'I think baseball is soooooo boring.'

Suddenly, I woke up, so fast in fact that I literally dropped my notebook, pen and nearly fell out of my the chair. They looked at me and kept on talking, while I made the comment, ‘and you call this exciting?’

I should have kept my mouth shut, but I couldn’t. Let’s just say that arguing with soccer moms is not a good idea.

Don’t get me wrong, I have grown to have an affinity for soccer, especially when my niece, Lauren, played for the G-Girls, but I still have a difficult time understanding it. Off-sides makes about as much sense to me as icing in hockey.

Wouldn’t it be more exciting to allow for more goals?

In many ways football has been forced on us all as the most popular sport in the land. I like a good football game as much as anyone else, but it’s not the never-ending, super-exciting three hours that it is made out to be.

They run a play that last a few seconds, and then take a bunch more seconds to huddle up and figure out what they are going to do next, and then they repeat the same sequence over and over again.

Ever tried to explain football to someone? Cover-2, blitz, spread, Hail Mary, shotgun, safety, penalty, and the list goes on and on.

Baseball is simple. You start at home and you try to get back home. In between, there is just so much going on, and it all happens in front of you.

It isn’t necessarily a sport for TV, but does everything have to be fixed to appease television? Well, maybe it does to Bud Selig, but not to me.

When it looks like nothing is going on, in reality, there is plenty taking place. Just watch and learn.

In reality, baseball is so easy to understand even soccer moms could do it. If they would just take the time and try.

As Leo Durocher once said about the game, ‘Baseball is like church, many attend, few understand.’

—Brian Woodson is the sports editor at the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at or Twitter @bdtwoodson.

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