Editor’s note: A recent reddit post — this one to be exact — really stuck with me. The author is an Irishman who’s looking to get into baseball and, not knowing where to start, he asked for help. Well, this week at Infield Fly, we aim to help everybody’s who’s just getting into the game. If you’re a new fan, if you’re interested in becoming a fan or if you know somebody who think would love the game and you want to point them our way, hopefully this week will have something for you. We plan to cover the how and the why for new fans.
Read the first instalment, a basic stats primer, here.
Today, I, Chris, go over a few basic things the new fan should do to gain an appreciation for the game.
OK, so you want to be a baseball fan. Good choice! Baseball can be a very rewarding sport, but it’s not an easy one for newcomers. You’ve got a lot to learn, so, rather than overburden you with explanations, here are three simple steps to get into the game. Complete these three and you’ll still have a lot to learn about the sport, but you should come away with an appreciation for the game and a willingness to keep watching.
Step 1: Watch with a friend who knows the game
Baseball is a confusing game, of that there can be no doubt. Double switching, defensive shifts, pitch sequencing, the infield fly rule (in song!), hell, even something as simple as a force out can be confusing if you don’t know what’s going on.
Fortunately, baseball has a pace just slow enough that you can watch with a friend and, in most cases, carry on a conversation with that friend without missing the action. So the first step to your new fandom is to find a patient friend who knows the game and watch with them. When something happens that you don’t understand, ask for a quick explanation. You get to learn and get some quality time with your friend. Double win!
One thing to keep in mind though is that you should repay your friend in some way. And when it comes to baseball, beer is almost the perfect way to pay someone back. Beer and baseball are a near-perfect combination!
Step 2: Announcers matter
I’m assuming that before you spend on tickets to a ballgame, you’re going to be watching on TV. There’s nothing wrong with that at all, but it is worth noting that not all broadcasts are created equally.
My favourite team, the Toronto Blue Jays, are lacking in the TV broadcasting department. If you listen to them, you will either come away bored and confused or you will come away thinking you’ve learned a lot about the game when, in reality, you’ve likely just been spoonfed a bunch of falsehoods for nine innings. As bad as Buck and Tabby are, they’re far from the worst. The Kansas City Royals’ TV announcers exude melancholy. Stay far, far away from them.
Good announcers, on the other hand, can turn a turd of a game into a memorable experience. A few to seek out:
- Vin Scully. The Los Angeles Dodgers’ announcer is a human time capsule. The 84-year-old has been calling Dodgers games for 63 years — longer than the Dodgers have been in L.A., even. Every year there are rumours of his impending retirement and every year fans of ALL teams are relieved to hear he’s coming back. He’s that good. He’s also, as far as I know, the only announcer in North American sports who still calls the game on his own. It’s a nice change of pace from the 18-person panels that a lot of networks seem to be employing these days. This recommendation is time-sensitive. Seek out a Scully-called game while you can. He can’t keep coming back forever, no matter how much people want him to.
- Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper. The San Francisco Giants’ TV announcers are both former players and that really comes across in their broadcasts. It doesn’t come across in the all-too-common “I-played-the-game-so-I-know-more-than-you” way, but more in a “baseball-is-fun-let’s-have-fun” kind of way. They good-naturedly make fun of fans and players and generally just seem to have a great time. Their approach can really enhance the viewing experience.
- Jerry Howarth and Alan Ashby. This is a Canadian blog and I’d be remiss to not include what is by far the best baseball broadcasting team in the country. The Toronto Blue Jays’ radio announcers are really quite something. They both know the game in and out, they both know when to call the game without blathering on to fill every second of the game (a rare skill, it seems), they don’t hesitate to criticize anyone who deserves it and, to top it all off, they’re great guys. Howarth was even nice enough to give us a two-part interview a while back, which you can read here and here.
Step 3: The ballpark experience
Watching baseball on TV is not a bad way to take in the game. The TV broadcasts excel at a few things including letting you see just how much movement is on each of those pitches and explaining any controversial or questionable calls and, usually, accompanying the explanation with a replay to get a better view.
The experience of watching a game in person though is good at destroying the belief many people seem to have that baseball players are not athletes. The speed with which pitches are thrown and the bat comes through the zone; the quick reflexes, strong arms and pinpoint accuracy of most fielders; the timing and jump involved with stealing a base — these things are all incredibly impressive to see up close.
And that’s the key — seeing it up close. Sure, sitting in the nosebleed seats can be fun (I do it for almost every game I attend), but we’re trying to convert people here. There’s a huge difference in sitting at the top of the stadium and having field-level infield access.
I know that good seats to an MLB game are expensive (this is why I mainly sit in the 500s) and I know that even getting to a major league stadium is not practical for everybody, but there are other ways to get a feel for the game. If getting good seats to an MLB game is not option for you, I suggest you seek out the highest level of affordable baseball in your area and check it out.
Maybe that means you end up watching a college game, senior game or, if you’re lucky, a minor league game. I used to cover the Nova Scotia Senior League and I’d usually watch the games standing right behind the backstop. This is a league filled with former MLB draft picks, U.S. college recruits and some guys who even reached as high as Triple-A (the league just below MLB). Being up close and hearing the pop of the catcher’s mitt or the crack of the bat as a home run sails toward the outfield, well, it’d be hard to not get an appreciation for what these guys are doing out there.
Got any other tips for a new fan? Leave them in the comment section below. Tomorrow we switch from the how to the why as we give you the perspective of a fan who’s been watching for just a little more than a year.