Everyone loves to see a tape-measure home run, but baseball’s big-blast era is officially over. Funny how the 500-foot homers stopped happening with regularity once drug-testing was expanded. But that’s a whole other issue.
Baseball, at its essence, is a game of subtle wonders. It’s often said — usually by radio broadcasters — that in every game you see something you never saw before. That’s true, and that’s a great appeal of the sport. But it’s the repetition of radiant moments that keeps us coming back. We’ve all seen dozens and dozens of leaping or diving catches, but each one provides an electric reaction that’s every bit as addicting as the previous one.
Here are 10 plays (or, in some cases, situations) that never fail to get my heart pumping:
1, The bases-loaded, base-clearing double to the gap by the home team. I love the jumble of motion and the rapidly building crescendo of noise as the runners race around the bases, the batter races to second, the outfielders race after the ball, the infielders race out for the cutoff, and the fans go crazy. Bonus points if this occurs with two outs on a 3-2 count, with the runners taking off on the pitch.
2, The perfectly executed hit and run. The one where the second baseman or shortstop goes over to cover the base, and the batter pokes the ball right where the second baseman or shortstop would have been — easy double play — if he wasn’t covering the base. Bat artistry at its finest.
3, The 1-2-3 double-play. I like watching it, and I like writing it in my scorebook.
4, A pitcher working out of a bases-load, no-out jam with no runs scoring. Especially if it features a 1-2-3 double play. The sense of exhiliration for the escaping team, and the sense of deflation for the squandering team, is immense.
5, The mile-high popup. You’ve seen them — the ones that would have scraped the Kingdome roof, the ones that make you gasp at the sheer improbability of the height achieved. I love watching the infielder stagger under it and try to stay with it. And if there’s wind involved, so much the better.
6, A good, old-fashioned triple. I adhere to the feelings of George Foster, who once hit 52 homers in a season but said: “I don’t know why people like the home run so much. A home run is over as soon as it starts the triple is the most exciting play of the game.”
I’d throw in the triple’s distant cousin, the inside-the-park homer, but that’s too rare to be a part of this discussion.
7, The perfectly executed relay from the outfield to nail a runner at home. The sense of anticipation as fans realize there’s going to be a play at the plate, the mounting excitement as the ball and runner arrive simultaneously — all capped by a violent collision between the runner and catcher. Can’t beat it.
8, The bunt single The artistry in a well-placed bunt should be savored.
9, The suicide squeeze bunt. The audacity of the gamble is admirable — or the height of stupidity. The debate is part of the appeal. When it works, it’s virtually infallible. But when it fails, it’s a disaster.
10, The crisp double play. I think we fail to appreciate the complexity of turning two, which requires grace, athleticism and lightning-quick reflexes. The margin for error is huge, but major-league infielders tend to make it look easier than it really is. Bonus points if it ends with a scoop by the first baseman.