When Irish Voice intern EOIN BRENNAN came to New York last year baseball was a game he knew nothing about, but the sport and its earnest fans soon won him over.
When I came to New York late last year my knowledge of baseball was extremely limited, almost to the point that I effectively knew nothing of the game.
I knew of Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds (neither for particularly good reasons, their steroid infamy having traveled around the world further than news of any home run chase), and I knew the names Mickey Mantle, Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio.
I had no real idea of the rules of the game. I knew three strikes made an out and a runner must travel all four bases to score a run. I did not know six outs made an inning; I didn’t even really know what an inning was. RBI, OBP, batting averages, ERA -- these all meant nothing to me. A sacrifice fly, a double play, a pinch runner, a reliever or a closer? Again, alien concepts and terms.
In reality, there was almost nothing to start my baseball odyssey with. I was entering the baseball arena from a position of total ignorance, tainted by poorly judged misconceptions of the game and an ignorance of America’s pastime formed largely as a by-product of baseball’s insular nature, the only of the American sports never to achieve any noticeable level of popularity across the Atlantic ocean.
My first experience of the game was on opening day of this season, as I visited Yankee Stadium with some friends from Dublin who had also moved to New York in the past year. All were of a similar level of knowledge (that is, so little as to be insignificant), and all found the game dull and largely unentertaining. Most left by the end of the seventh inning to find warmer surrounds and less extortionately priced beer.
In their defense, it was an icy cold, March afternoon, a parting gift from a bleak winter, with snow falling on us in the exposed bleachers. And to cap it all the food and drink prices seemed like barefaced robbery, even by New York standards.
At the time I agreed with them. This was a boring, drawn out game, and the interest shown towards it by Americans surrounding us was something we simply might never understand.
I left feeling baseball just wasn’t for me. I was sure there was some attraction I was unaware of, but the game was so uninviting to the uninitiated, so full of complex rules and, seemingly, so slowly paced that it would most likely remain background noise to my time in New York.
I soon realized how wrong I was.
From opening day on the baseball noises grew louder. The papers shouted the baseball news from their back pages, the bars hummed with talk of the form of various pitchers and hitters, and all around me the dull drone of the winter New York baseball community soon rose to a deafening roar as spring came around.
I’m not sure how long it took me, but I soon realized I was going to need to give baseball a second chance. I made no concrete plans for this, but resolved to desist from switching to the next channel as soon as I came across the sight of a pitcher on the mound, or heard the incomprehensible calls of the commentators as they told me there was “runners on the corners and two out in the bottom of the sixth.”
I set about my mission to familiarize myself with the game that had seemingly enveloped this city and was threatening to push me to the very precipice of social interaction.
I watched some more, all the time picking up another rule here or a crucial intricacy of the game there. I soon familiarized myself with the basic rules and was able to watch and enjoy entire games without needing to see a flurry of home runs to feel sufficiently entertained.
I learned of Jose Reyes and his irrepressible style of play, I soon knew who Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter were. What were once just names on the back of Yankees and Mets jerseys were now colossal figures of sporting excellence, their history in the game as impressive as any I had encountered in sport.
One thing I have found most interesting with baseball, the one thing that has drawn me in so entirely, is the way in which the game reveals itself to the newcomer -- slowly, with difficulty and yet filled with surprise.
Whereas the most basic premise of the game is the duel between batter and pitcher and the contest for outs, there is a deep and complex set of rules and styles of play that are almost entirely invisible to the uneducated spectator.