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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, April 15, 2024

Sports and Society: The walk to end all walks

Sports-and-Society-1

I’m going to level with you. Among the “Big Four” American sports, baseball is my least favorite. It’s both the slowest and least athletic, yet also the most confusing and time intensive. But I still went to the Red Sox-Pirates game on Monday night and remembered why I still love it.

It’s because baseball has exactly two things going for it that the other three sports cannot touch: history and a unique fan experience.

Baseball’s history is longer and better documented than any other American sport, and it’s not particularly close. The assault on the game’s history — specifically from MLB’s moronic and inconsistent erasure of the Steroid Era — is the biggest threat to the pastime’s popularity today. In a sports world where Justin Jefferson is making half-handed catches on a fourth-and-18 play and Giannis Antetokounmpo is completing Eurostep dunks, baseball can hardly afford to lose its edge in the history department.

And while MLB’s history may be more robust, it’s an open question whether it can be described as better. The rabbit hole of statistics and historical performance is endless, but that’s not always the most attractive thing to a casual observer. The fan experience, however, is what separates baseball, and I saw that firsthand on Monday night.

A baseball fan experiences more shifts in energy than any other sports fan over the course of a game. In football and basketball, the timed nature of plays makes action inevitable. Hockey is so fast paced that the energy of the crowd is always up. Conversely, the neutral state of in-person baseball viewing is one of total boredom.

As the Pirates mounted an offensive assault on Kutter Crawford at the top of the first, I felt myself melting into seat six of row 17 in bleacher section 38. But I felt fire erupt in me when Rafael Devers hit the first of three first inning homers for the Red Sox. It catapulted my energy in the other direction. Nowhere else but Fenway Park can I go from freezing in the 45-degree wind tunnel of the outfield bleachers to furiously high-fiving some guy next to me whose name I should really have learned.

And then there was the eighth inning rally and maybe my favorite at-bat of all time. Justin Turner stepped up to the plate, having gone 0–4 so far. Alex Verdugo waited on first, having reached on an infield single. Turner was the potential winning run.

He went down 0–2 on two bogus sinkers that were obviously outside, but that’s when it took a turn. The crowd got on its feet and demanded Turner fight back. Rapturous chants of “LET’S GO RED SOX (clap, clap, clap clap clap)” began. Turner took two straight balls high and inside.

Colin Holderman, the Pirates’ relief pitcher, was rattled as the crowd continued to swell. He took a timeout for a mound visit. Big mistake. The crowd let out a colossal “BOOOOO,” and Holderman delivered another ball, which Turner took again. Full count, and in the freezing cold on a Monday night, Fenway Park demanded that Turner win this battle. He laid off a low changeup and walked. The crowd exploded.

If I had my eyes closed, I would have guessed he had hit a grand slam.

In the end, Turner and Verdugo would be stranded on base. The Red Sox lost by one run. But I’ll remember that game for the electricity of the eighth inning rally that never was. And for the most legendary walk of my life.