Monday, July 12, 2010

Top of the Second: Keep the Frogs Alive

I rubbed my hands together with glee when an editor recently asked me to write a piece about why baseball is sexy, eager to jump right in. Here's a topic I not only know a lot about, but one -- well, one that let's just say a lot of people know I know a lot about. I smiled at such an easy request as I poured a glass of cold white wine, turned on the fan, and prepared to polish off the task.

And yet, here I am, a good week later, with nothing to show for it. As it is well known that I eschew being obvious, I thought perhaps I should skip the part about well-muscled men in their primes donning tight uniforms to run, bend, stretch, sweat, or just stand there in the name of glory, fame, and love of the game (and, yeah, I know, buckets of money for the MLBers). A veterinarian once (once!) insulted both my dog Lulu and me when he deemed her -- a bow-legged, chunky black pitbull/Labrador mix -- "not a very good specimen." Conversely, these guys are very good specimens. So -- as you see -- I did not skip the physical element after all: to ignore its role in baseball's sexiness would be akin to denying that, although we adore our lovers for their humor and intelligence, we never noticed their strong arms or firm butts.

What about football, you ask. Their pants are tighter, their contact harder and more intense. And, as I reply to men who contact me on Adult FriendFinder with photos only of their penises: exceptional physical assets are definite turn-ons but really are a distant second to the Face -- maybe it's just how women are wired, or, then again, maybe it's just me. Thankfully, in baseball (unlike football) we not only get to see the players' faces during the game, but we get to look at them long and long: we can watch a pitcher's face for half of a three-hour game, and each individual hitter's changing expressions are visible as long as he can extend an at-bat, four or five times every night. It truly is a thing of beauty to get to know the features and idiosyncrasies of the faces of 25 men over the course of 162 games, sometimes for years.

(Last week, when Phillies back-up catcher Brian Schneider won the game in the bottom of the 12th with a walk-off homer, right-fielder Shane Victorino's face -- who we've all come to know, even in dull games, as boyishly enthusiastic -- looked downright maniacal as he and his teammates joyously greeted Schneider at the plate. Soon my grin was just as broad as Shane's and in that moment -- after almost five years of watching his animated face and now willingly infected with his contagious energy -- I loved him as if he were blood, as I have many a Phillie in the past 30 years.)

Burrell's butt and Victorino's joie de vivre aside, I do know players' physical attributes are only part of this crazy sexy knot I'm trying to untie. As a secret loner all my life, I've always envied and been excited by those who flourish as part of a group -- and what is sexier than dozens of strong people working their hardest together -- physically and emotionally -- through parts of every season of the year, in all weather, in places strewn across thousands of miles, and sometimes from absurdly diverse backgrounds and languages? For a team ultimately to survive, each player must sacrifice his own personal success for the group's; in short, playing together is sex, playing for your own stats is masturbation (if you're doing it right, the former is always preferable to the latter).

And, finally, I realize that so much of why I consider baseball sexy is personal, growing from thousands of experiences listening to, watching, and attending games: my first-ever view of the impossibly vivid green of the Veterans Stadium field, generating a sense of wonder that returns every time I enter a baseball concourse; the unrivaled camaraderie of Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn; the unique timing and rhythm that encourage discussions with friends or strangers at bars or games; the sound of a massive home run leaving a Phillie bat, and the sight of it landing in the second deck; post-season opportunities to scream at the top of my lungs with 50,000 others; pitchers and catchers "reporting" after a tough winter; a reliever tipping his cap to the crowd.

Still feeling as if I could keep defining and listing, though, I am reminded of one of my favorite Mark Twain quotes:
"Studying humor [or baseball's sexiness, if you will] is like dissecting a frog -- you may know a lot, but you end up with a dead frog."
I think it was actually that underlying sentiment that made it difficult for me to initially get started on this piece. Baseball is Sexy, always has been for me -- just like so many other magical elements in my life -- and maybe the mystery of "Why" is part of it all. Let's keep the frogs alive.

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