Baseball: The Perfect Game

Matt Cain pitching a perfect game rekindled in me a love of baseball I forgot existed. Sometimes slow, sometimes turgid, but always gripping, it's the perfect sport.
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I love baseball. But I have neglected baseball. Hearing about Matt Cain pitching a perfect game for my beloved San Francisco Giants tweaked an emotional muscle within me that only baseball can tweak. Maybe because I connect the Giants with a particular youthful, adventurous period of my life, where lots of distinctly girlfriend-free days were filled with watching them play and feeling slightly sorry for myself. And believe me, if you don’t have a girlfriend, baseball can eat up a lot of time (April to October).

But there was some guilt there too. If you live in the States, it’s remarkably easy to keep up with football. Premiere League matches are shown on a variety of different networks, way more than in the UK.  But watching baseball over here is a baffling painful ordeal. I’ve no idea who broadcasts it now (except for ESPN America that only seems available in certain areas at certain times, via expensive subscriptions and voodoo.) So I’ve lost track. I watched the Giants win the World Series, but spring training passed me by this year and the season kicked off without me. I haven’t seen any baseball, don’t know who was traded, haven’t looked at the standings. So news of Cain’s perfect game provoked a mixture of emotions.

Pitching a perfect game is such an insanely amazing thing. Preventing your opponents from hitting the ball or getting on base completely is astonishing. The whole idea of baseball is to score runs and entertain the nice people in the crowd. Pitching perfectly defeats this, it ruins the game. It’s like having a football match that is all goalkeeping and nothing else. That’s why it’s so great – it’s a celebration of ruination. There have only been 22 perfect games in the entire history of baseball. And considering these lunatics play practically every day during the season, it makes it even more remarkable. It’s the first one EVER in Giants history. And they’ve been around since 1883 (and in SF since 1958), so you can imagine how thrilled we all are. AND Cain scored a run! That’s just taking the piss.

It’s like having a football match that is all goalkeeping and nothing else. That’s why it’s so great – it’s a celebration of ruination.

I’ve never been a fan of the hitters. Give me a pitching duel any day of the week. When some enormous lunkhead hits a home run, fireworks explode, mascots run around, a variety of sporting anthems play. But pitching achievements just happen. A pitcher throws a slew of strikes, gets a no-hitter, strikes out the side for which he’ll get a pat on the bum and a cheer as everyone runs back to the dugout. No fireworks anywhere. ‘We Will Rock You’ remains decidedly unplayed.

I lived in San Francisco during Barry Bonds’ roid fuelled run up the all-time home run batting list, so saw plenty of hitting celebrations. I was at the game when he hit his 500th home run. When it happened, the place went wild, the match was halted, a podium appeared, batting legend Hank Aaron said a few words, there was possibly a certificate presented… DURING THE GAME. The opposing LA Dodgers had to stand there like lemons for fifteen minutes as Barry’s achievement was recognised. Then once the smoke from the incendiaries had cleared, everyone took their positions and the game commenced.

That’s why I look down on hitters. Too much razzmatazz. Pitchers are my guys, because they are the kooks, the loners, the weirdos. Pitchers read books and listen to Bon Iver and, unless they are in the game that day, are segregated from the rest of the team in their own holding pen. They have odd quirks and superstitions and biuzarre facial hair and pitch games on acid (Dock Ellis in 1970, he threw a no-hitter despite not being able to feel the ball, he claimed) and have nicknames like ‘The Beard’, ‘The Freak’ and ‘The Spaceman’. They are the outcasts and I love them.

That’s why I look down on hitters. Too much razzmatazz. Pitchers are my guys, because they are the kooks, the loners, the weirdos.

They add a further unique element to an already unique game. Baseball always felt slightly un-American to me, even though it’s the national pastime. American Football and Basketball (both great also) feel so controlled and organised, fitting into these perfectly allotted time slots to allow for commercials and punditry. Baseball can be INTERMINABLE. If it’s a draw, a game continues until someone wins or DIES. An inning can last an eternity. It can be profoundly dull and that’s when it gets really fun. A tie game in extra innings when it’s already 10.30pm and you’ve got work in the morning really separates the true fan from the chaff. But you always feel better for the dedication. Trying to get home once public transport has ended, happy, full of beer and desperate to pee.

I know that makes my beloved sport sound remarkably boring, but ALL SPORT is boring. That’s the nature of it, that’s why we adore it. It’s long periods of nothingness punctuated by something truly remarkable and joyous. And baseball has nothingness in spades. During a lull in a recent game I heard some commentators discussing doves (as one had flown onto the field) which led to a debate about the plural of ‘dove’ which was eventually decided when someone used the song ‘When Doves Cry’ as a reference point. It’s stuff like that which makes baseball so fucking great.

So forgive me baseball. I’m sorry I’ve neglected you. Hearing about Matt Cain’s perfect game reminded me how wonderful you can be and what a fool I’ve been to forget about you. I want you back baby, I can change. I’ll stop seeing those other teams (not too much of a problem when you support Wolverhampton Wanderers) and get that expensive niche cable channel subscription you’ve been hankering after. There’s an oddly-shaped, occasionally dull, endlessly complicated, beer and snack filled hole in my life and only baseball can fill it.

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