Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Second Base With Sophia

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(AP photos from ESPN.com)

"Neilochka, would you come over tonight?" Sophia asked.

"Sure.  What for?" I thought.  "Hmm… maybe she’s missing the ol’ Neilochka.  I put on some Brut and headed off to Redondo Beach."

I arrived with thoughts of scoring with Sophia.   But no.  Well, to be honest, there was some scoring.  In fact, there was a whole lot of talk about getting to second and third base. 

"I want to watch the baseball game tonight with you.  Everyone at work was talking about the Angels, and I still don’t understand how this stupid game works."

"You’ve lived in this country for so long.   Why don’t you know baseball?"

"It’s soooo boring.  But today I want to finally learn." 

Tonight  I would teach the Russian/Israeli Sophia all about baseball.

Now I’m not a big baseball fan, but I played and still follow the Mets… sometimes.  I played in Little League… poorly.   And I certainly know the rules of baseball, from the ball to the balk, from the RBI to the ERA.

How hard could this be to teach Sophia all about baseball?

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GAME 5 — ANGELS VS. WHITE SOX — TOP OF THE FIRST

"That’s a ball."

"Why not a strike?"

"Because it didn’t hit the right zone.  You see that area around the catcher’s glove?"

"The catcher?  What team is he on?"

"The Angels."

"I thought the thrower was on the Angels?"

"The pitcher.  Yes, he is."

"So, why is the catcher trying to take away his own team’s ball?"

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BOTTOM OF THE THIRD

"Sophia, now there is one out."

"I thought there were two outs."

"No.  There are two balls and two strikes.  But there is only one out."

"OK, he just missed the zone.  So that was a ball.  So, it’s now three balls and two strikes."

"Great, you’re getting it.  It’s a full count."

"A full account of what?"

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TOP OF THE FIFTH

"Why did the pitcher throw it to the guy at first base rather than to the hitter?"

"Oy, this is a little complicated.  You remember the White Sox guy… the good-looking guy who got the hit before."

"Right.  Good-looking Japanese White Sox Guy."

"OK, Good-looking Japanese White Sox Guy is now on first, and he’s taking a lead because, uh, because, uh, I don’t know how else to say this… he’s thinking of stealing."

"Stealing what?"

"This is a little advanced, but sometimes when a runner is on the base, such as Good-looking Japanese White Sox Guy, he can start to run when the pitcher throws the ball — and he can steal the base."

"And what does he do when he steals it?  Does he run off the field with it?"

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TOP OF THE NINTH

"He caught it! Yay!  He’s out!  That’s good for us, right?"

"Sort of.  But because he hit is so far, the guy on third is tagging up.  He’s running home to score."

"I thought you can’t run when there is an out."

"Usually, you can’t.   Unless you hit it really far away, then the runner can… he just can tag up.  Forget it about it.  It doesn’t happen that much."

"It just happened now."

That’s because he hit it into the outfield."

"The outfield?"

"The outfield is out there!  The infield is in here!"

"You don’t have to yell.  I hear you."

"It’s just some weird rule."

"Weird rule?  This whole game is nothing but weird rules.  In soccer, they kick the ball, everyone knows what’s going on.  Here, I’m thinking they just made up the rules as they went along."

"Forget it.  It’s not that important.  But you understand the difference between the outfield and infield?"

"Yes.  If you hit it to the outfield, you’re out.  If you hit it in the infield, you’re in."

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STILL THE TOP OF THE NINTH

"Strike three!  He’s out."

"Not really.  Remember what I told you.  As long as he makes contact on that last strike, he still gets another chance."

"For how long?"

"As long as he makes contact."

"What if he keeps on making contact for three more hours?"

"Then he’s up for three more hours."

"I see.  And what happens if in the bottom of the ninth, the Angels catch up?"

"Then they keep on playing into extra innings."

"Let me guess.  Even if it’s for three more hours…  This thing is never over."

"Baseball is like chess.  It is a very intellectual game."

"Oh, yeah.  That Angel spitting some brown stuff onto the grass looks like a real Einstein."

"Once you get into it… there’s nothing like a good baseball game."

"Booooring! I’m beginning to think they made up the game just to sell hot dogs and beer to the people in the stands."

"Finally!  You understand the real meaning of baseball!"

46 Comments

  1. Just imagine if you had to explain game 2 of the ALCS. Oy vey!

  2. wow baseball is even more confusing and boring sounding than cricket- u crazy americans

  3. I thought I understood baseball until I read this.

  4. Not being a sports fan, her questions sound perfectly reasonable to me.

  5. Nothing explains the difference between us and the Europeans as well as our sports. Baseball is a fascinating game with myriad strategies and tactics with a rule book that is a living document – much like our country’s constitution – that can be altered slightly to keep the game fair and interesting. It’s the only sport where the defense has the ball. The only sport where there is no time limit, where a team is never mathematically eliminated.

    On the other hand, soccer is some guys running up and down a field who are too lazy to bend down and pick up the ball.

  6. at least you didn’t have to try to explain the infield fly rule.

  7. For someone who didn’t really know a great deal about baseball, I think that Sophia did a marvelous job.

  8. i can’t believe you’re a mets fan….i’m so disappointed in you, neil.

  9. why is my name showing up as anonymous???

  10. I like her question about stealing the base.

    I wish someone had stopped and explained baseball like this to me! Instead, I spent 10 years not caring and 10 more trying to figure it out and another 9 wondering if it really made a difference whether or not I got it.

    Of course, unlike Sophia, I never really bothered to ask.

  11. Baseball on TV is boring indeed — you have to go to a park and experience for real to even begin to understand the experience.

    But don’t worry, Sophia, I saw my first hockey game last year and I was totally confused.

  12. This exchange sounds remarkably similar to the time I tried to get my guy to explain baseball to me. 😉

    Oh, and Aussie Chic – Nothing is more confusing and boring than cricket. 😉 Although baseball is definitely a close second, as far as I’m concerned.

  13. Oh this is brilliant! This is absolutely like every conversation I’ve had with Jordan Baker at a baseball game. The counterintuitiveness is staggering. But compelling, nonetheless! Great dialogue, Neil.

  14. I always found it much more productive to tell girlfriends/wife about the player’s wives or scandles they were involved in than to try to explain baseball.

    It’s like yatzee, every roll is different.

    I’de rather say, “Ya he left his wife last week because she was sleeping with the Red Sox bullpen,” than try and explain a bunt or a balk.

    My wife appreciates it too.

    ~Jef

  15. What sacrifices women go thru to express their interest in a man! Not only to sit thru the most boring, long, illogical game on Earth, unappealing aesthetically (the uniforms as well as the physical ugliness of the players, but also the structure of the game itself – just look at those pictures! yak) – but to earnestly try to comprehend incomprehendable madness!

    Would men ever display such angelic nature? By asking for explanation of some complex issue women are experts in, f.ex.,shoes’ selection?

  16. Wow, it’s amazing that someone could grow up without understanding baseball. I mean, I don’t necesarily like baseball, but I get it. I guess I did grow up in America, playing T-ball and all.

  17. The funny thing is as I was explaining it, it occurred to me that baseball really does make very little sense. It is so complicated, I wonder why all Americans don’t grow up to be brilliant mathematicians, having to learn about ERAs and full counts from an early age.

    Sophia really enjoys basketball and she got the hang of the game within five minutes of watching it.

  18. Hilarious post!!

    What’s great about baseball is that one can enjoy it whether or not one understands it. It’s a treat to sit outside (or inside, among friends) on a gorgeous Fall day at a sporting event? When some excitement happens, conversation can be turned towards the game. Otherwise it’s a social event with a game in the background.

    HOWEVER, if one understands every nuance of the game (like those persons at the game with radios in ears and stat books in laps), every pitch is exciting. It is, indeed, a game of chess. In High School I was on the DL from track so I took stats for the boys’ baseball team. It was a gift. I now enjoy the sport on more than one level.

    And Lets Go Mets! Or… lets get GOING, Mets!!
    Namaste.
    ~HDJ

  19. This is why I never got into baseball or football, and why I settled for basketball. There’s the basket, here’s a ball. The goal is to put the ball in the basket. Simple. That and time is regulated.

  20. that is hilarious. i am a bit like sophia when it comes to baseball. she did finally get it though- hot dogs and beer- that’s the american way! 😉

  21. that’s so funny! i never really thought about how complicated it is. i personally love baseball, the yankees to be specific, despite the fact that i’m a woman. but… the mets? and here i thought we had a lot in common.

  22. re: Aussie chick’s comment…nothing is as boring and crazy as cricket! 🙂

    The great part about both games, though, is that they involve a beer and some crap food, with friends, in the sun. Which can’t be a bad thing.

  23. I think the best way to watch baseball is to go to the game and get drunk enough so that you don’t even notice the fly ball that just hit your neighbor in the head.

  24. That is the funniest thing I’ve read in ages. Love it.

  25. In grad school I went to a baseball game with, among others, three international students and a really clueless girl. None of them had ever watched baseball before.

    The game featured some stolen bases, a balk, a ground rule double, a dropped third strike, and at least one instance of the infield fly rule. Clueless girl kept asking “Why are they running?” Eventually it became easier to pretend we didn’t know.

    Nevertheless, they all enjoyed their Dodger dogs, a rousing chorus of Take Me Out to the Ballgame and the post-game fireworks. Plus the Dutch guy really liked imitating the umpire.

    So you should take Sophia to a game next season. It’s way more fun if you are in the stands, especially if you have a beer.

  26. looks around…how can anyone NOT understand baseball? Baseball is what New Yorkers have instead of religion.

  27. *Ahem* isn’t it a) cheaper b) quieter c) focused on your friends – to get a picnic basket, 2 cases of beer, bundle of hotdogs and get to the park with your buddies?
    Just asking.

  28. Tatyana, You are so wrong. Baseball is a beautiful game. And have you gotten a look at Derek Jeter?

  29. Does Sophia understand football? I’d love to hear you try to explain that to her.

  30. Yes, Rachel, I just did. No change of opinion.

  31. ugh… the rules of baseball ARE ridiculous. my dad spent about 10 minutes trying to explain a “balk” to me the other weekend.

  32. Baseball is a sport of equality and symmetry. You do not have to be exceptionally tall, fast or strong to be successful at baseball.

  33. The balk is like pornography; no one can really define it, but we know it when we see it.

  34. Neil, you knew I’d come comment for this one, didn’t you?

    First, Sophia, I’m proud of you for picking an Angels game for your baseball learning experience. This just proves that Sophia and I would make fabulous friends.

    Secondly, why didn’t you post a picture of my future husband instead of so many White Sox pics?

    I loved this post. I think this might just be one of my most favoritest things I’ve ever read in my life.

    And Sophia, next season I’ll take you to an Angels game so you can experience a hot dog and beer while watching it, and you’ll realize the beauty that is baseball.

  35. Also Neil, with this blog post, I’ve definitely decided you’re the most crushable of all my blogcrushes. *swoon*

  36. and Neil, I knew you werent getting anywhere when you put on the Brut. What in God’s name possessed you to do that? Taking a dip in a sewage pipe would make you smell better than that stuff.

  37. Megan, is that a date?
    Angels in 2006!

  38. And Sophia, a full count occurs when the batter (the guy trying to hit the ball, as I am sure Neil has explained) has three balls and two strikes. This is a position all pitchers and most batters dislike because if the next pitch is a ball the batter gets a walk, or a free base; if the next pitch is a strike, then the batter is out and goes to the dugout to sulk. So the batter will swing at almost anything that looks like it might be a strike in the hope of making contact with the ball. If he doesnt actually hit the ball, which is to say, he doesnt hit inside the foul lines, but just makes contact with it and hits it foul (outside the foul lines) then it doesnt count and the pitcher has to throw again. Pitchers hate having to do this, primarily because they dislike having to keep looking at the same people all the time, but batters have a bad habit of trying to get hits and so must be dealt with firmly.

  39. As for soccer, I am convinced that this is a diabolically clever way of getting people to run track and field events under the cover of a ball game.

  40. Akaky, the guy has three balls and he tries to hit one with a bat? You lost me after that, sorry.

  41. noway soccer is awesome and for any of those english people its SOCCER not football

  42. Your confusion is understandable, ma’am, since I neglected to point out the difference between the literal ball and the descriptive ball in this case. The batter stands in the batter’s box next to a house shaped plate that is set into the ground. This is home plate and is not available in china or in stoneware, although you could probably pick up a set of them cheap on eBay. The zone between the batter’s knees to the point just under the name of the team on his shirt and extending out to the other edge of the plate is the strike zone due to the class struggle and the constant fight of the proletariat against the capitalist bastards who ruthlessly exploit them.

    Now, strikes come in a variety of forms. You could not swing at a ball thrown (or pitched, as the process is called in baseball) through the strike zone or you can swing at a ball and miss it entirely or you can swing at it and hit the ball foul, which is to say, on either side of the playing field; this, however, only counts as a strike the first two times you do it—after that you can hit as many foul balls as you want and they don’t count for anything except as a gauge of the pitcher’s frustration. A ball, on the other hand, is any pitch that goes below the batter’s knees or above the letters on the front of his uniform or does not cross over some portion of home plate. The person who determines all of this is the fat guy who stands behind the catcher. This is the umpire, whose job it is to decide whether the pitch was a ball or a strike and to enforce the rules of the game on a bunch of overpaid egomaniacs. The umpire is either, depending on which team you support, a judicious and serious solon carefully and correctly applying the standards of the game, or a stupid, fat, blind as a frigging bat jackass obviously taking money from someone somewhere to make sure your team loses. The general rule of thumb in these cases is that if everyone is mad at the umpire he must be doing something right.

  43. It would appear that a glossary of baseball terms is in order here.

  44. Now .. try to explain cricket to an American 🙂

  45. […]A careful reading of Neil’s attempts to explain baseball to the always lovely Sophia has convinced me that a glossary of baseball terms is necessary for those of you who are not familiar with the game.[…]

  46. Exactly! God, I love me some baseball.

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