Baseball, like every other sport on the planet, except bowling, pool, arm wrestling and darts, is a young man’s sport. I’d throw in competitive eating, too, but 1) I’m not sure it’s really a sport and 2) the older you are, the more practice you’ve had so, technically-speaking, you should have an advantage. Take me, for instance. I money-back guarantee you that I can eat any 20-year-old you want into a coma. And the only thing I have in common with an athlete (other than Bartolo Colon’s waist line) is ESPN — I watch it and they’re on it.
Seriously, most highlight reel stuff in baseball is done by guys under 30. Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Giancarlo Stanton, Clayton Kershaw, Andrew McCutchen, Chris Sale, the Chicago Cubs … I could go on. It’s a ridiculous list of super-human mutants that do wicked good, mind-blowing things with bats and gloves and arms with monotonous regularity. (Uh, that means “all the time”, White Sox fans.) Yeah, sure, I know … baseball has guys as old as rocks, too. Sometimes you see ’em in the dugout. Guys like Koji Uehara, R.A. Dickey, David Ross, the aforementioned Bartolo Colon, and A-Rod. (Those last two are jaggoffs … but so far, Manfred, in his one man quest to remake baseball into shuffleboard with a clock, hasn’t instituted any mandatory retirement age for jaggoffs. Yet.) But most old baseball guys, that aren’t in the booth, are scouting or coaching or managing other guys; younger ones who don’t make grunting noises when they get out of a chair.
Every now and then, though, you get one of those Hank Aaron, Jamie Moyer, Cal Ripkin, Ted Williams kinda years; the kind where guys that oughta be walkin’ on a beach with a metal detector are doin’ things in Major League ballparks normally reserved for the bat-flippin’ coverboys who shave stuff not meant to be shaved. This year, for me, that would be Big Papi (real name not required) and Ichiro (last name not required).
The first time I laid eyes on Ichiro (sorta … I mean he got to first base quicker than a sailor in a whore house) it was at Ho Ho Kam during his first spring training with the M’s. The guy hit 2 completely routine ground balls to short. You know … regular, 3 or 4 bounce, boring, run-o-the-mill, 6-to-3 sure-fire outs. Safe on both of ’em. The first thing I did, after I picked my jaw up off the ground, was call a buddy who bleeds fantasy baseball and tell him to draft the guy. 15 years later, with the clock at 42, Ichiro’s hittin’.417 and is gonna pass the 3,000 hit mark if he gets enough at bats. And that’s his American numbers, cuz if you add in the 1,278 hits he had in Japan, he’s already over 4,000. And why wouldn’t you count those? I think the guy has proven he hit Major League pitching as good as Japanese pitching. Plus … if you’re gonna count anything done by Barry Bonds after he got to San Francisco, or McGwire or Sosa or anyone else who dropped trou and crapped all over the game, then I think you gotta count all of Ichiro’s numbers.
Papi is the other ancient phenom this year. His numbers are unreal; like some sorta hacked video game character that can only be kept off base by tossing the damn Playstation in the lake. If he was playin’ for the Cubs you can bet your sweet megaphone that we’d be subject to the obnoxious decibels of Stephen A. Smith accusing him of juicing. Papi is the heart and soul of the Sox, and it’s difficult to imagine that he won’t be there next year makin’ pitchers half his age work around him. If you’re on the hill, Ortiz is the last guy you wanna see step into the box … especially if the game is on the line. You might as well just turn around and throw the ball into the gap or into the right field bleachers, cuz that’s where it’s headed.
Point is, baseball is a kid’s game. It’s played by men, but the further they get from childhood, the more difficult it becomes to keep playin’. Here’s to the guys (and as a Cubs fan, I include David Ross among them) that have enough kid in them at age 36, 40, 42, to still do stuff that amazes all of us, even those half their age.