What is it about the National Pastime that makes it rise up above other sports for me? Here are a few reasons:
Baseball is a game that is different from other sports. Most other professional sports have the purpose of getting an object into a goal -- football, basketball, hockey, golf, soccer, all require the players to score points or win a round by getting a ball or puck in an end zone, a basket, a net, or a hole. Baseball is different. Pitching and baserunning, balls and strikes, hits, foulballs, and homeruns, it's all a seemingly banal but ultimately fascinating game.
Baseball is about individuals and still about teamwork. In no other team sport is the role of the individual so important. From the batter at the plate to the position players on the field, each player has a moment in the spotlight when it all depends on them. Yet, teamwork is still pivotal, as evidenced in hit-and-run plays, doubleplays (or the rare tripleplays), and more.
Baseball is not a slave of the clock. Friday night's incredible comeback by the Yankees, overcoming a 5-run deficit in the final innings, proved the old adage that it isn't over until it's over. A lot of professional sports have a finite time. Baseball revolves around outs and innings, not minutes or hours. Some complain about the length of the game, especially if it's a tie and goes into extra innings, but I enjoy the fact that until the final out, anything is possible.
Baseball is about strategy. My mom hates baseball, but I think it's because she doesn't understand the rules. It can be a dull sport if you don't know everything involved in the gameplay. The analogy I like to use is comparing baseball to a good game of chess. If you don't know the rules, the game might look like a slow, tedious waste of time. But if you know the specifics, if you know the strategy, it becomes a brilliant pastime full of possibilities.
Baseball is about history. Being a Yankees fan, I'm spoiled by its rich history, but baseball as a whole is loaded with great highlights and dramatic achievements. As much as I despise the Red Sox, their 2004 World Series victory was an historic moment, and it's no wonder that it caught the nation's attention. If the Chicago Cubs ever manage to win it all someday, that will be another moment of terrific sports theater. Even with the stigma of steroids and other scandals in baseball's past, I still get a thrill from every new milestone reached, every new record broken.
Baseball is pastoral. Although other sports have a huge fanbase and have challenged baseball's reign as the National Pastime, there is still nothing more symbolic of Americana than baseball. The fields of dirt and grass, the wood of the bats and the leather of the gloves, all add to the feeling of a game of summer tranquilty and autumn excitement. Even though there are domed stadiums and artificial turf, and most games are now played at night, I still think of baseball as a game of open skies and natural charm, crowds cheering while munching on hot dogs, peanuts, and Cracker Jack.
Baseball is mythic. There is something about the sport that seems to transcend reality. It's a game loaded with superstitions, full of sometimes silly rituals, and time after time delivering moments of magic that seem to defy imagination. No-hitters, spectacular plays, dramatic feats -- fiction writers couldn't make up some of the stuff that baseball fans see on a regular basis.
I've been a fan of baseball since I was a little kid, and despite disappointments and feelings of betrayal from work stoppages, steroid abuse, and other letdowns, the sport itself remains one of my great pleasures. It is no surprise that others around the world are starting to embrace baseball. It's a sport that continues to enthrall and delight, making us forget about the rest of life's worries for at least a while.