Baseball is the one with nine on a side, players in caps and pajama bottoms.
Defense wears leather gloves. Bats are required for offense but, relax, the sport is nonviolent.
Every so often, a person called the pitcher throws a ball (white, red stitches) toward the batter, who, now and then, hits it beyond the men — no women in the big leagues yet — crouched and waiting, gloves ready.
If the ball goes into the stands, no one cares. A lucky fan just takes it home.
There are no search parties like in the old Brooklyn days when a lost ball could send more neighborhood boys looking down sewers and under cars than G-men trailing the great bank robber Willie Sutton.
In baseball, you might recall, a batter attempts to travel from where he started — home plate — and back again. When that occasionally happens, a point is awarded. Finally, a “run.” Hooray.
Games end when they end — clocks are for less noble pursuits — and hometown customers are apt to leave the park shaking their heads in bewilderment or dismay because even the best teams usually don’t win too many more than half the games.
The whole thing is uneven, offbeat, exhausting, American.
Baseball, the national pastime, a beautiful thing.
Hockey, basketball, football, soccer, if you want. But nothing beats the sweet, abiding poetry of baseball.
After being delayed since March by the virus, competition is starting again.
The season will be shortened — by 102 games! — and schedule rearranged.
There won’t be spectators because of social distancing though some teams — including the Mets — are putting cardboard cutouts of fans in the seats to provide an old-fashioned, circa 2019, kind of atmosphere.
Why not? Add a little recorded crowd noise and maybe holographic hot dog vendors hawking overpriced franks to the stiffs in the seats. Crazy, sure. Just like everything else.
TV is broadcasting and, don’t worry, it all will come back — balls and strikes, homers, pop flies, grounders, steals, bunts, walks, balks, curves, screwballs and sliders.
Exciting, but there are lots of worries and even the shortened season could run into trouble.
Several players already have tested positive, and some top stars opted out.
The teams are going to give it a try. Money is involved (big news) and, anyway, people are desperate for continuity — something to remind us of the way it was, you know … before.
“Baseball’s back,” said my younger son, who, though now middle-aged, looks like a little kid when he says the words, and I know he’s thinking of the Mets and Shea Stadium when we — the six of us — would pack a lunch and sit in the upper deck, general admission, $1.50 a ticket, $9 for the whole family.
Once, we picked up my mother in Brooklyn — add another buck and a half — to enjoy an afternoon in the sun. Mom wasn’t much of a fan, but a good sport, and, boy, did she love being around her grandkids.
We arrived early, like always, for batting practice. Stadium food would have threatened family bankruptcy. Instead, we brought a carrier, Scotch-plaid design, with a thermos bottle on each side and space for sandwiches in the middle.
As the Mets whacked the ball around the lot, we ate Fluffernutters and drank lemonade from Dixie cups. Mom bought the kids boxes of Cracker Jack so all the food groups would be represented. We were set.
It was still an hour from the national anthem when our littlest fan — then only 5 or 6, now the previously mentioned middle-aged son — showed signs he might not make it to the first inning, let alone the ninth.
“Would you like to go now, dear?” my mother whispered and, drowsily, the little guy nodded. Mom gathered up the drowsy Mets fan for a subway ride to Brooklyn.
After the game, we retrieved our sleepyhead in Park Slope and — nearly 50 years later — still joke about the day he went to Shea and conked out in the middle of batting practice.
Now, wide awake, he wouldn’t consider leaving before the end. Lopsided score, extra innings, rain or shine, we stay, family rule.
In this hard luck season, our bunch won’t be in the stands even as cardboard cutouts. From afar, we’ll be rooting hard, though, hoping the Mets stay healthy and the opposition, too.
For now, baseball is back. Seems like old times.