Jonty Fletcher makes his Bat Flips and Nerds debut, explaining to us why he chose the Yankees and why he loves baseball.
Growing up in Britain, it’s not so easy to follow American sports. Many look at baseball and think its just a glorified game of rounders, right?
Wrong. Baseball is one of the most intricate and uniquely beautiful sports in the world. From the traditionalist views to the sabermetrics of Billy Beane, the controversial record breaking homers from Barry Bonds, the dynasties taking over like the Yankees, the game is always changing.
My first encounter with baseball began in 2011 with the release of the movie adaptation of Moneyball. Now, once I’d seen this movie, I decided to do some research on what team I should look into. As I supported the New York Giants in the NFL, I thought it only right that I stick to New York teams. So – Yankees or Mets? Well Billy Beane was a Met, though that didn’t play much of a part in his story. Obviously I’d heard of Babe Ruth before, so I decided to look into the Evil Empire and what stories they had in their history. I began reading about these players, their stories, each legend that had played a part in the rich tapestry of their history, and one stood out for me. Lou Gehrig.
Lou Gehrig, “The Iron Horse” was a Yankee through and through. Amassing numbers of 493 homers, 1995 RBI, maintaining a .340 average for his entire career – this guy was something special. Then I came across the harrowing tale of his final years, and the beautiful “Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth” speech. When a man faces such adversity, he doesn’t respond with scorn, he remains thankful for the success and happiness he has received over the course of his life and career. It is easy to see why this story stood out above others for me. It showed me that baseball is a gift that keeps on giving, how the passion for the sport has been rooted decades ago before all the money and fame. It was safe to say that I had decided that I wanted to support the Yankees.
Returning to more modern times, I wanted to see how the Yankees were playing in 2011. I could see that they had most recently won the World Series in 2009, but I was looking forward to just watching some games, rather than hope for success at this point. At this point I realised that baseball is one of the most technical sports in the world. OBP, Slugging percentage, batting averages, WAR, ERA, how was I meant to keep up? While it seems daunting at first, knowing these stats eventually helps it become one of the most enriching experiences you can have watching a game. You begin to see players in a different way. You can see what makes a good hitter, a good pitcher, a good catcher. How a pitcher’s wins and losses don’t necessarily mean that he is pitching well, but can often reflect how the batters are performing in those games. Once you learn this, you’ll find yourself checking up on individual stats of players and seeing how they are projected for each season.
While we can list off names like Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio, I had to quickly realise that I was already watching some Yankee legends live. I often thank the fact that I got into baseball when I did, otherwise I could have easily missed seeing these guys playing live on TV, every late night first pitch that I could stay up for. Watching a game as we approach the bottom of the 9th, Enter Sandman blasting as the legendary closer Mariano Rivera, walks to the mound to almost certainly close out a win. That was something special. “Mo” registered 652 saves during his career, and I feel lucky to say that I got to watch a season and a half of him, including his final game. However, he wasn’t the only legend in the team at the time.
“The Captain” Derek Jeter was a name that I had heard but didn’t even know I’d heard before I started watching baseball. It was eerily familiar, until I realised he was one of the biggest names in American sports. Simply watching some of his highlight plays showed his dedication to the game, as he was willing to take a blow to the head in the stands just to secure an out. He played with such tenacity that it was easy to see why he was the fan favourite, as De-rek Je-ter was called out every game in Yankee stadium, both new and old. It was amazing to watch the 40-year-old Captain playing with the same desire that he had as a rookie, right up until his walk-off single in his final home game against the Baltimore Orioles on September 25th 2014, That would be his final game as a shortstop as he opted to DH at Fenway.
Baseball is a game of heroes and villains, where legends can be made overnight. You can have heroes of the fall, dramatic all-or-nothing game 7’s, and sensational sweeps when watching the league’s best. Baseball truly is the sport that keeps on giving as it can resonate so strongly, whether you live in America or all the way across the Atlantic in the United Kingdom. It truly has become a sport for the casual viewer or the stat-man analyst, the traditionalist or the revolutionary, there is room for everyone in this sport. “America’s favourite pastime” can become the world’s favourite pastime as it grows abroad, leading to now in 2018, where we eagerly await for the Yankees and Red Sox pick up their bats and play ball in the London stadium. For a Brit, there has never been a better time to get into baseball. I am going to be able to see my favourite team, the New York Yankees playing in the UK for the first time ever. That’s my story, so it only leaves one question. What team are you going to choose?