Last year, when the Phillies won the World Series, I cheered myself hoarse, posed with a police officer for a triumphant picture, and called my mother from the happily delirious mob I joined, beer in hand, to march down Broad Street. It was amazing — I have the Facebook pictures to prove it. And, I easily could have missed it. High school me would have rolled her eyes, channeled “Juno”-level snark, and stayed inside. Here’s how I learned to love the ball game, plus a guide for non-believers.As a developing child, I loved sports. All of them. My dad bought me Nikes so I could “Be Like Mike” and play on the second grade basketball team. I was a budding defender, great at getting in the way of two-point shots, but terrible at shooting them myself in the moment of truth. No matter though, because it was second grade. I went home, feeling good (because everyone is a winner), to yell at the games on TV and memorize the stats of the new professional women of the WNBA. My mom told me about baseball in Pittsburgh, and what it was like to watch Roberto Clemente and keep a careful score card. At the fifth grade Super Bowl party when Michael Jackson sang “We are the World,” I was the only girl still in the room.
Then, the end of the dream. Middle school. The worst of the worst. Like a John Hughes movie with a denouement three years in delay, the geeks separated from the jocks, seemingly never to relate outside of swirlies again. I was never going to be like Mike — jocks were the worst. Then, baseball went on strike, and that seemingly was the death blow for my sports love. Those wackos wanted more money? Seriously? They were probably the same guys who pantsed Jeff and shoved him into the girls’ locker room. They weren’t getting one iota of sympathy from me. So, I went through all of high school never making it to a single game, hiding in the back benches during the homecoming rallies, and desperately wanting college to start.
Then it came. College: the place where people cared about books and smarts and thinking and not some display of brute physicality and ass-slapping. Hrmph. But that all changed in my junior year when I roomed with Evey. She was smart and cared about books and thinking. We took the town at night, seeing fringe theater shows and musicians, sneaking into the bar that never carded with the killer Long Island Iced Teas, and then staying up some more to watch “Labyrinth.” We totally connected in that instant college way But Evey was a sports fan, a big one who did care about displays of brute physicality and ass-slapping. It was always sports season: baseball, basketball, hockey, football, college teams, European soccer — always something. She pulled me in. Slowly at first, with games on in the background during all-day cramming sessions that came more and more to the foreground as she slowly reacquainted me with their rules (a two-point conversion is like an extra touchdown, switch hitters come out to bat for pitchers in the American league, and that’s Donovan McNabb’s mom in the Campbell’s soup commercials …) I got sucked back in. When we moved into our first real non-campus apartment and couldn’t afford cable, we marched ourselves and homework to the sports bar and camped out there with equations, drinks, and pretty young men with telephone numbers and a willingness to pick up the tab.
It became easy to be ravenous with the love of the game. I love being swept away into shared joy — I love that Cliff Lee didn’t let anyone get past second base — and I love that I got to join the throng of revelers last year after Philadelphia took the World Series. And, reader, I want you in on my joy. Don’t let yourself be left inside, at home with the windows closed while the world goes crazy for baseball. Here’s the quick and dirty guide:
The World Series: Up to seven games that determine the World Champions of Baseball played with one team from the American League and one from the National (Never mind that it’s called the World Series, and it is really just an American game. Canada hardly counts). This year, the Phillies are the National League Champions (yay!) and the Yankees have clinched the American League. Whichever team takes four games wins. The first game is tomorrow night!
Innings: The nine divisions the game is (ideally) broken into. Each team takes a turn at bat each inning, and then goes to the outfield for the next one. If the game is a tie at the end of the ninth, it goes into extra innings. There can be a lot of extra innings, and sometimes it is sit-on-your-hands exciting, and sometimes you’ll see the whole stadium dying of boredom waiting for something to finally happen. Anyway, the top of the third would be the first half of the inning, and the bottom of the third is the second half when the batting team switches to defense (goes to the outfield).
Outs: Three outs ends the at-bat portion of the inning, and they happen when a player strikes out (failing to hit three good pitches), the batted ball is caught without hitting the ground, a running player is tagged before reaching the base, or the ball makes it to the baseman before the runner. This is where a lot of that brute physicality comes into play as they slam into each other, falling on the ground together in a pile of tangled limbs.
Pitching: One pitcher doesn’t generally stay in for the whole game (unless he’s doing really well) because they are throwing those balls fast — 90 miles an hour or so. He should be throwing the ball into the strike zone — the area over home plate between the batter’s shoulders and knees, but he has three balls (that aren’t in the strike zone) before the batter gets walked to first base on the fourth. The batter is also walked if the pitcher hits him with one of those crazy-fast balls.
If you’re gonna watch the series, it is also really important to remember that Cole Hamels is extremely hot. Just wait. Keeping all this in mind, sit back, relax, and yell yourself hoarse.