Monday, December 5 , 2016, 4:55 pm | Fair 61º


Max McCumber: Why the World Cup Isn’t Enough for Soccer to One-Up Baseball

An even-numbered non-leap year is time for the World Cup staged in June. Unlike much of the globe, the game we call soccer in the United States is not really my cup of tea. As a baseball enthusiast, I'm used to hearing others consider it boring and slow. To that I counter with how soccer puts me to sleep quicker — even the World Cup.

Max McCumber
Max McCumber

The common counter-argument to the dullness of baseball is that you have to understand the game and its nuances. I keep hearing the same thing, about how it's slow for a reason. Instead, I venture to say it's fast-paced in its own way and offers more instant gratification than other sports played on rectangular fields with clocks.

There are some obvious displays of baseball speed. In particular from the mound, an 80- to 90-mile-an-hour fastball is hardly slow. Some can even hit the triple digits; I saw the Reds' Aroldis Chapman close a game with a slew of heaters around 100 mph when in Cincinnati two years ago. The halcyon days of stolen bases may be behind us without Lou Brock or Rickey Henderson, but L.A. Dodgers second baseman Dee Gordon has certainly amplified the running game so far this year.

Soccer may have a time limit, but the scoring difficulty slows down the pace. Even in a one-run pitchers' duel of a baseball game, offensive production is not so unlikely. Walks, sacrifice flies and bunts, squeeze plays or errors happen, so hits are far from the only scoring threats. Since passing the ball through the net is the main scoring method, it's no surprise that soccer points provoke announcers to shout "GGGGGOOOAAAAALLLLL!!!" It finally happens after long stretches of kicking back and forth.

Frames of baseball play can have similar intervals to traditional two-half, four-quarter timed sports. Even in a soccer, hockey or basketball game, out-of-bounds balls, timeouts, free throws and penalty shots lengthen the period just as pitching changes prolong innings.

If I say it's halftime after 4½ innings, I'd probably elicit a response similar to Tom Hanks' "there's no crying in baseball" line from A League of Their Own. Halftime? There's no clock in baseball! No, there isn't, but I've heard plenty of announcers lead into commercial breaks with a "halfway through this one" sign-off. So once the third out gets recorded to end the top of the fifth inning, I usually take a walk around the park and sometimes fetch some peanuts or Cracker Jacks I may not have purchased beforehand.

Comedian George Carlin noted, "Baseball has the seventh-inning stretch, football has the two-minute warning." Thus, it's a more polite reminder. Either that, or since it's close to 3/4 of the nine-inning regulation, I deem the "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" rendition time as the end of the third quarter.

Maybe the World Baseball Classic is supposed to be a global tournament more suited to the tastes of fans like me. Its intrigue is cheapened, though, until more countries enter with the same expectations as Japan or the baseball factory that is the Dominican Republic. Not to mention that Team USA has most of its prospective talent skip the classic due to its interference with spring training.

It's at least worth noting that the soccer-crazed host nation of this year's World Cup has seen somewhat of a baseball breakthrough. Current Cleveland Indians catcher Yan Gomes is the big leagues' first Brazilian-born player.

A trip around Europe is on my bucket list, as it ought to be for anyone. For cheaper alternatives, trips scouring America in search of baseball are just as worth it. A dream come true for me would be to hop on the London tube or Paris Metro en route to an ornate ballpark with views of Big Ben or the Eiffel Tower. The Brits may have cricket, but it just isn't the same.

As outlandish pitcher Bill "the Spaceman" Lee once said, "Once the Russians pick up the game of baseball, world peace will be established." Not quite, but it would be a step in the right direction of some sort.

— Max McCumber is a Santa Barbara resident.

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