I might as well be explaining quantum chromodynamics than explaining what any of the stuff up on that wall would mean during an actual game to someone who hasn't even heard of the Red Sox. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
(This might be the first in a series of comic diaries in lone1c's EPIC FAIL-filled attempts to spread his love of baseball on an unassuming and uncaring foreign land.)
I would have thought that, if there were one place in Europe that baseball would have a reasonable chance of thriving, it would be Germany. Sports fans are passionate, without being nearly as prone to rioting as the British. Even better, not only do they root for a sport which has no regulation standard for field dimensions, they speak a language that has more rules and restrictions than baseball! So, all things considered, I would have thought that the intricacy and nuances of the game would appeal to your typical German.
Sadly, I was quickly and repeatedly disabused of this notion. It's hard to remember exactly when I realized that I wasn't going to find many people who knew what on-base average was, let alone root for someone named Pedroia or "Lestah." The pool is too small—even among the emigres here, football and basketball are held in greater esteem. (Heck, I think even the NHL does better here than baseball.) Boston is not completely unknown in the sports world here; but the only team from here that people are aware of? Not the Red Sox. It's their colleagues in Foxboro that grab the attention, and some Tom Brady guy who might be kind of good. (I actually met a German high schooler who played as a linebacker in an American football league. It should be entered into evidence that said kid makes Deion Branch, Wes Welker, and Danny Woodhead look like giants, so don't hold out any hopes for the Patriots to be playing in Bayern anytime soon.) So, while I have circumstantial evidence of American football fields in Germany, I have yet to see any sign of a diamond hidden in the rough. (And, sadly, if you were to build one, I suspect "they" would not come.)
But, getting back to the main argument, baseball just really doesn't get a lot of love here. There are a few fans to be seen—or at least, I should say, that I see a few baseball caps and jackets here and there. However, I've seen about as many people decked out in Kansas City Royals as I have wearing that distinctive stylized "B." It's depressing that there have been more funny-looking P's, and of course California's cool. Unfortunately, you can guess who dominates the gear count here. (Of course, that joke practically writes itself, doesn't it? I'll wait while you tell it to yourself and have a good laugh. Go on, you know you want to.)
I think that a large part of the problem boils down to unfamiliarity: they just don't know what baseball is, and so they don't realize that it's the sport they're really meant to be rooting for! I mean, who really cares about the Dallas MaveDirks, anyways? Just because some 7-foot German guy's their best player, doesn't mean you should go hog-wild when they win the NBA championship, right? And why should they get all worked up over a football team—okay, okay, soccer team? It's just a bunch of people kicking a ball and running around for an hour and a half! Where's the suicide squeeze? The thrill of the grand slam? The unpredictability of the knuckleball? The brilliant diving, twisting, somersaulting catch? Soccer may be balletic when it's played right, but it's still excruciating to watch—and impossible to blog and game thread about!
Once more, I digress, when I really do have a point to get to. My attempts, dismal as they have been, tend to founder on trying to explain to a foreigner how the game works. Ignoring the linguistic challenges of trying to explain something really complicated in a foreign language you haven't quite mastered yet (see "more rules than baseball," above), there's the more significant issue of how do you explain baseball to someone who can remember when the "three stars" jerseys were "two stars"? You can't just say "score more runs than the other team," because what does a "run" mean? How do you score one? Well, you have to go around the bases and get back to home plate before you get thrown out. And you get to run the bases by hitting a ball so that it hits the ground before anybody catches it—or leaves the field altogether, or by getting four "balls" before you get three "strikes." And that's about the time that people start looking at you as if you've suddenly become a leper, or grown a second head, or started sounding like you were "speaking" like GRONK. ("Gronk catch touchdown! GRONK SMASH!")
So, I'd like to turn this into a challenge for any interested readers out there: how, exactly, do you explain the game that drives us bonkers seven months a year to an audience that has absolutely no conceptual frame of reference? What is so essential about this crazy, wonderful game that someone hearing about baseball for the first time will need to know to spark their interest and attention? How do I begin a subtle and covert plan to plant the flag of a glorious new colony for Red Sox nation when I'm the baseball-loving stranger in a strange soccer-worshiping land?