It occurred to me while watching the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians with my grandchildren – their first World Series – that I wasn’t doing a very good job of explaining the game to them because we were all too busy watching the historical action while eating bad food and there was too much to learn in too short of a timespan.
Not that they didn’t learn a lot watching and asking a lot of good questions, but the sheer immensity of what they didn’t know yet must have mystified them, particularly Ruby, 5, who kept asking “When can we go down and feed the horses?”
I told her “during the 7th inning stretch,” and she replied, “What’s THAT?”
And all that her older brothers really knew about baseball was that it meant tossing a ball back and forth on the front lawn. This might be baseball at it’s purest, but that isn’t what was on display during the World Series – which is baseball at it’s ultimate finest.
I decided these kids needed to take a course called “Baseball 101” before their second World Series in a year and it was my duty, as a 70-year-old retired sportswriter, to author it for them. Since all three are able to read and write now they should be able to comprehend so long as I don’t get into too much ubiquitous serendipity (two of my favourites) and other big words.
Thus was born the idea of a kiddie book about baseball, a work in progress.
Grandpa’s Baseball Book
Chapter 1: Origins of the Game
Although the game we now call baseball is certainly a North American invention that started in the mid-19th century on the east coast of America, it is actually a marriage of two rural children’s games, Rounders and Cricket, played in England, Ireland and Scotland. The first time the word “baseball” appeared written in the English language is in 1744; it is found in a children’s book called A Little Pretty Pocket-Book.
Rounders had a bat, ball, four bases run counter-clockwise and nine players on each team – but no pitcher and catcher like cricket. When they combined the two games into one, baseball was born, although nobody seems to know exactly when and where that happened. A good guess is a schoolyard at recess.
We do know factually teams and leagues were quite common by 1850, the first purely professional team was the Cincinnati Red Stockings in 1869 and the first World Series was played in 1903.
Chapter 2: Numbers
At it’s core, baseball is a game of numbers and the two most important numbers are nine and three.
There are nine players on the field at all times on a baseball team and they play nine innings against another team with nine players. Without the number “9”, baseball games would be athletic chaos… like hockey.
This is the second most important number in baseball because a batter gets three swings at pitches over the home plate and if he or she misses the ball all three times, the umpire bellows “YER OUT!” and you have to go back and sit on the bench until your next try at getting a hit. Remember, there is no crying in baseball.
And each team gets three outs before you change places with the other team and have to go out in the field so they can come in and take their turn trying to get hits and runs.
Without three strikes and three outs, a baseball game might go on forever… like Rounders and Cricket, baseball’s grandparents. People got tired of missing meals and not sleeping at night during a cricket match, so they invented three strikes and three outs to speed things up and get everybody home in time for supper.
This is another important number because if a pitcher throws four balls NOT over home plate before three strikes, the batter gets a free pass to first base which is called a “walk,” although nobody actually walks down to first. Usually they trot so it probably should be called a “trot.” But it isn’t.
It is what it is, which long ago caused a popular saying in baseball: “A walk is as good as a hit,” which is true because, either way you wind up on first base, which is the whole point of the exercise.
Speaking of which:
These numbers refer to the bases a player has to cross to score a run although they are called: “first, second, third and home.” It is a really good thing to score a run for your team, because everybody totally likes you for a while and pats you on the back or attacks you with high fives and other silly expressions of enthusiasm. The team that scores the most runs, of course, wins the game.