Thursday, August 08, 2013

A Different Game

Once upon a time, someone invented a sport called "soccer" or "football".  The game obviously appealed to a lot of people as it has been very popular from then to this day.  It is in fact, the world's most popular sport.  How popular is it?  It is so popular that it has been re-invented many, many times.

The rules are pretty straightforward.  Start with a rectangular-shaped grass field and put goals on each end and basically, two teams kick, pass, and shoot a ball and try to get the ball into the defended goal on the opponent's side of the field.  With the exception of the player defending the goal (the goalie), the players play both offense and defense simultaneously.  The game is played for a given time limit. There are a few rules such as not using hands and not kicking the ball outside of the rectangular arena.  That's more or less, the game of soccer.  It's simple enough where a thing or two can be changed and a brand new game can be invented.

For example, instead of kicking a ball, have the players use sticks to strike the ball.  Now you have field hockey.  Field hockey is essentially soccer.

If the players use nets, you have lacrosse.  Lacrosse is essentially soccer.

Now replace the grass field with an ice rink and use a rubber disk instead of a ball.  Now you have ice-hockey.  Ice hockey is essentially soccer.

Okay, replace the ice with a hardwood floor.  Change the angle of the goal from horizontal to vertical and you have basketball.  Basketball is essentially soccer.

Put the grass field back and now have the players ride horses and hit a ball with a stick and you have polo.  Polo is essentially soccer.

Instead of having continuous motion, have set scrimmages and allow players to run with or throw an elongated ball forward.  Now you have American football.  American football is essentially soccer.

Instead of putting an object into a goal at the end of the rectangle, let's just make the rule where the object just has to be struck to the opposing side where the opponent can't hit it back.  Now, we have a whole slew of new sports.

Play that way with your hands and you have volleyball.  Volleyball is essentially soccer.

Play volleyball in the water and you have water polo.  Water polo is essentially soccer.

Go back to a hard surface and strike the ball with a tightly netted paddle and you've got tennis.  Tennis is essentially soccer.  For that matter, so is badminton.

Shrink the rectangle and raise it up as a table and you have table tennis or ping pong.  Table tennis is essentially soccer.

Now, cut the rectangular arena in half, put a wall on one end and have opposing players on the same side of the wall.  You have racquetball and handball.  Racquetball and handball are essentially soccer.

Here's a bit of a stretch but bear with me.  Take the rectangular arena and spin it round.  Instead of a net, have just a pole with a soccer ball hanging on a rope from the top.  You've got tether ball.  Tether ball is essentially soccer.

Let's sum it all up.  Field hockey, lacrosse, ice hockey, basketball, polo, American football, volleyball, water polo, tennis, badminton, table tennis, racquetball, handball, and tether ball are all variants of soccer.

Do you know what isn't soccer?  Baseball isn't soccer.  Baseball breaks many of the rules of soccer and soccer variants.  Players are either playing defense or offense, never at the same time.  The defense handles the ball.  There's no time limit or set scoring.  The object is for the player to reach the goal, not the ball.  Baseball is different.

Yes, baseball is different.  This is perhaps why so many don't seem to care for it.  One views a soccer game or variant and can very quickly figure out the basics of the game.  Baseball really needs to be explained to the newcomer or it will seem very confusing - especially if this newcomer is expecting another form of soccer. 

Baseball is the sport of physics and mathematics.  So many principles are there where a student of these disciplines can have a field day (pun intended).  It's a game where geometry and statistics is intertwined with physical action and mental toughness.  Unlike soccer and variants where strategy is about specific plays, strategy in baseball is fluid and constant.  So much so that the untrained spectator doesn't perceive it.  To enjoy baseball, one must be willing to be involved in it and not just passively watch it. 

Professional baseball doesn't always seem to get it.  It seems that some believe that changing a thing or two here and there to make it more "soccer-like" will get the unwashed masses who spend their money on tickets and jerseys for soccer and soccer variants to give baseball another look.  It isn't going to happen.  Why?  Because baseball is different.

Is adding instant-replay to baseball really going to improve baseball?  I don't think so.  Umpires and their all too human abilities and inabilities having to make instant decisions over a split-second occurrence is part of what makes baseball different, and better I might add.  Players and managers screaming at umpires over a perceived blown call is part of the fabric of baseball.  Why even try to get rid of it? 

For that matter, get rid of the designated hitter.  A baseball player is both a batter and a fielder.  Save the specialty players for American football.  It has no use in baseball except for those out there that believe an extra batter in the lineup is actually going to get a soccer person's attention. 

Baseball is different.