Soccer, Baseball, Ease, Boredom

“You better catch that fly ball out in left field or you’re marked forever.”

– George Plimpton

“If it was easy everyone would do it.”

– traditional saying

“Those fools who watch a baseball game and declare it boring are not those who fail to understand it, or even fail to appreciate it: they fail to imagine it.”

– Patrick Dubuque

It is easy to kick a soccer ball. Or catch a baseball.

I had a classmate who tried to convince me lacrosse was the best sport. “I mean, what do you do in baseball? Maybe catch a few ground balls, but you don’t run that much. It’s easy. It’s boring.”

He was right. It is easy to catch a baseball. Or kick a soccer ball. Or whatever the verb is to describe curling. You and I could find a back yard and play catch right now.

It is difficult make an argument for “best” sport. It is too subjective. What is perceived as boring though, we can change. You see, what Louis Lacrosse failed to realize is the simplicity of these sports makes them entertaining, and makes them difficult.

The New York Giants led the final game of the 1912 World Series 2-1 in the 10th inning. The leadoff batter hit a lazy fly ball to the outfield. Fred Snodgrass, New York’s center fielder, drifted in and caught the ball. It is easy to catch a baseball.

Then he dropped it.

The runner got on. The Red Sox scored two runs. Snodgrass and the Giants lost the game and the World Series.

One play does not lose a game. We all know this. But as Snodgrass said of the play, “The facts don’t seem to matter.”

Fred Snodgrass retired four years later. He got married and had two daughters. He moved to California and became a banker. The citizens of Oxnard elected him to the city council and he went on to become the city’s mayor.

Snodgrass lived in California for almost 60 years before he died in April 1974. The next day an obituary appeared in The New York Times entitled: Fred Snodgrass, 86, Dead; Ball Player Muffed 1912 Fly.

It is easy to catch a baseball.

Many Americans, Louis Lacrosse likely included, will tell you that soccer is boring. The trap that most fall into—the one that I fell into until I reexamined the sport a few months ago—is that a soccer field (sorry, soccer pitch) is set up like a hockey rink. Hockey is familiar to us. We expect the games to go a certain way. Quick play, non-stop, back-and-forth action, relentless defense, power plays, players intercepting the puck en route to breakaways.

It is not the set-up of the court that is important though, but rather the pace of the game. This is why soccer is no so much related to hockey as it is to baseball.

If you watch a soccer game (sorry, soccer match), perhaps one in the World Cup this year, there will be a lot of time spent simply passing the ball back-and-forth. Teams will retreat to maintain possession of the ball. Guys will take an extra second to get up and walk it off—even while the game continues around them.

This is not slow, boring gameplay; it is expected. Like baseball, soccer is a pastoral game. A pastime leftover from a slower world. Soccer’s clock marches ever onward—but timing is not precise and rigid as in American sports. There is little, if any, emphasis on racing the clock.

There are about 18 minutes of action in a three-hour baseball game. Soccer, if timed, I suspect is close to that. The action on the field may stop, but the anticipation of what could happen next never does. Thus the entertainment value for those who have taken the time to study the game skyrockets. So many things could happen next.

Soccer’s pace is the opening hill of a roller coaster. It may seem nonchalant, but at some point it will reach the tipping point. And when they go for it when they start to sprint, the pass, its reception, and the shot on goal all have to fall into place like dominos, one after the next, if they want to see the ball in the net. Over an hour-and-a-half they may only have a handful of chances to get a shot off.

So when there are millions of eyes on you and the ball is on your foot, you better not miss. If you do, they will still be reading about you a hundred years from now. Because it is easy to kick a soccer ball.

Fred Snodgrass
Fred Snodgrass