It's been a long winter already, with still two more months to go until the real games get started. And boy howdy, we're bummed out about it.
The notion that we'll spend another month talking in negative terms - what the Jays haven't done, who they haven't signed and what they won't achieve next year - is enough to make us barricade ourselves in the basement under a pile a pillows and stuffed animals, waiting for warmth of the spring to come rouse us back to a happy place.
In the midst of this pity party, we noticed a handful of fine baseball-loving folks feeding their sunnier thoughts about the game into Twitter yesterday, under the #WhyILoveBaseball hashtag. Those cheerful notions made us reflect on the little things that we love about the game, and what we look forward to seeing soon. We've collected a few off the top of our head to share with you.
Gappers: This isn't to diminish how awesome it is to see players smack-a-tater, but there's something sublime about the mounting excitement that builds when a well-hit ball gets into the outfield gap. It takes an extra second or two to figure out if any of the outfielders have any sort of play on the ball ("That ball's gonna get down!") and then the fun starts ("And it's gonna get to the wall!") If there are runners on, you've got motion around the diamond and players scoring and guys taking extra bags and cut-off throws and sliding plays at the bases. How much fun is that?
Lefty Pick Off Moves: We grew up watching Jimmy Key confound runners who attempted to distinguish between his move to first base and his move home, and there are few plays that we enjoy more than a well-executed pick off. (Skip to 1:26 of this video, from Key's induction into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame, to see Otis Nixon get got by a quick and deceiving move to first.) Conversely, nothing is quite so infuriating as to watch your own runner be picked off or lean back to the base unnecessarily. It's always a little disappointing these days to see the number of lefties who don't tend this skill, and who do little more than monitor the runner and chase him back with a soft toss.
The Number 42: We always find it a little weird when watching another sport and seeing someone wearing Jackie Robinson's number. But during the baseball season, we always like whenever a camera shot wanders over towards the retired numbers in the ballpark and finds number 42 among the local squad's honourees. It's seems to us to be a good and fitting tribute to the man, and a reminder of what to us is baseball's greatest shame.
Players Acting as Impromptu Base Coaches: Occasionally, you'll catch either the runner coming around third waving the runner behind him in to score. More often, a runner who's already crossed the plate looks back and signals to the runners behind him when and where to slide. Sometimes, a committee comprised of runners and on-deck batters gather to provide voluminous feedback to the baserunners. And sometimes the "hands-up, stand-up" signal morphs perfectly into a congratulatory high five.
Uniforms and Flair: If you've read our blog for any amount of time, you've probably picked up on how much we love baseball uniforms. The different permutations and the peculiar, one-day one-offs that pop up throughout the season are fun to see. But we also love seeing the multitude of ways that players make the uniforms their own: Wristbands, armbands, high socks, baggy pants, long sleeves, eye black, shades on, shades off, flip-downs, flat brim, taped wrists, shin guard, pine tar stains, double ear-flaps, mutli-coloured cleats and Franklin batting gloves. Just to name a few. They might not always be what we'd wear on the field of play, but the way a player dresses up his uniform always helps to differentiate him from every other player. It's always nice to see some personality out there.
Inning Ending Strikeouts: Especially as games reach their later stages, and the outs become more important (meaningful?), having your pitcher get the better of the batter is great fun. Whether if it comes from extracting a swing at something nasty or freezing the batter with an unexpected breaking ball in the zone, nothing elicits a fist pump quite like a K to end a frame. (Bonus points for the strikeouts that come accompanied by the pitcher hopping off the mound.)
That's our list, and we feel a little bit better just having shared it. How about you? What warms your baseball heart on these cold winter nights?