Do We Still Dig The Long Ball?

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The home run. It is the one thing that captivated us as baseball moved from the Dead Ball Era into arguably the “game that Ruth built”. We’ve been told that chicks dig it and so should we. The question: is the longest ball you can hit in a baseball game still captivating us?

The Home Run Derby once again makes an appearance during All-Star Week on July 14 at Target Field, in Minnesota. This time, however, the format has changed. The ten players will only get seven outs per round. After the first round, the players will begin bracketed play. As reported by MLB.com, “Five players from each league will bat in the opening round, with seven outs instead of the 10 we’d grown accustomed to. The player who hits the most homers in each league will automatically receive a bye to the third round (semifinals). The next two players from each league with the most homers will square off against one another in a head-to-head matchup in the second round. The winners of these matchups will advance to the third round to compete against the league’s top seed. The final round will feature the winners of the American and National League semifinals going head-to-head to determine the winner of the event” (Mark Newman).

Troy Tulowitzki of the Colorado Rockies and Jose Bautista of the Toronto Blue Jays will be the captains–with the right to select four players each from their respective leagues to join them in the long ball battle. Likely, Bautista would have selected his Blue Jays teammate, Edwin Encarnacion, who already has 26 home runs for the 2014 season, had he not injured himself over the weekend. It is highly doubtful that he will play in the derby or the All-Star Game.

The change in the format itself is now up for debate here. If the home run swing is so moving to every baseball fan, why the need to change anything? Some experts and fans say it is to spice things up, adding more competitiveness to the event. Is it not already competitive enough to see someone hit a massive amount of home runs compared to you?

In the previous format, the home run total would not carry over per round, so some hitters would bust balls over the fence at an unbelievable rate in the first round and then have nothing left for the next round. The man with the most home runs in total may not have been the one who won the derby. In this new format, the same premise still applies. The hitter is playing another hitter and not the ball, like a game within the game–rather than a skill. Isn’t that what the All-Star Game is for?

Granted that the baseball-loving public will undoubtedly love the new format and enjoy the friendly trash-talking and the added imposed competitiveness of the event. Water-cooler talk will reign supreme the next morning as people debate whether the captains should have picked different hitters and where they appear in the brackets. Just what sports needs: another bracket system to discuss and possibly gamble over.

What is being left in the background is the majesty that the home run brings to a young fan. The crack of the bat. The liftoff of the ball. The eyes staring at what seems like a white star shooting its way in an arch over the green grass, touching down from the heavens into the glove of a young dreamer, or at least the young at heart.

Babe Ruth made that image famous in a time that our nation needed a spark of hope and freedom. Nobody cared when the ball was created in a way to produce more “jump”. We wanted a hero who could do something the rest of us could only dream about doing, while wishing that we could see it again and again, or even to settle for just one more time. We wanted to see a game change with one swing of the bat, as if we could hit a home run in our own lives and change our fortunes. It’s the thing we love about baseball: as long as you are up to bat, any moment can change lives into victory.

So, has time changed the allure of the home run? We do know that they have become synonymous with the game: like the slam-dunk in the NBA or the touchdown pass in the NFL. We assume the top players can hit home runs and must prove it to become an impact player. Some men hit home runs to see their names in lights, on posters, on the lips of beautiful women, and firmly in the hearts of young baseball fans. Some men have taken drugs to augment their bodies to give the people what they want. Some experts would argue that the ball is now too lively, or that it has become too easy for it to “leap” from the bat and over the fence. However, nobody seems to be complaining much.

If everyone was a Superman, Clark Kent wouldn’t be that special anymore. If everyone can hit home runs, is it that awe-inspiring anymore? If we have to change the format of the Home Run Derby to make it more entertaining, should we even bother anymore? Are we complicating something that seems like instinct for us to enjoy?

I will always be awed by the home run–just as I am amazed by a beautiful double-play, a stolen base, or a diving catch in the outfield. They happen all the time and yet they are all still beautiful in their own graceful elegance. Their simplicity is their truth. Their truth is their beauty. That’s all I need to see to be inspired.

But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this new format will make for an incredible show. Maybe we can find new ways to make a no-hitter or perfect game more exciting. Why should the hitters have all the fun? Pitchers are competitive too, you know?

Have your say here or follow me @BrookerHaas and tell me your thoughts, whether you agree or disagree.

Thanks for your time!

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