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America’s Pastime is one of summer’s best times

Summer Pleasures Part III -- Watching baseball

“Play ball!”

One of sports’ most energizing catch phrases, right up there with “touchdown!” and “goooooaaaaal!”

No true baseball fan is above the goosebumps associated with the first “play ball!” of the new season.

The smell of hot dogs, roasted peanuts and freshly mowed grass. The sound of the pipe organ. The crack of the bat — or “clink” if you’re watching little league.

The universal feeling of optimism. When the umpire bellows the first “play ball!” on Opening Day, every team and all their fans believe they have a chance to win the pennant.

Even people who aren’t into following baseball — let alone, watching it — can ignore the sport’s grace, timelessness or pageantry.

There’s something for everyone. Whether a person derives pleasure from watching the game on the field, the antics going on around the field, or just being in the stands, baseball has a way of including everyone.

It’s relatively easy to follow, it’s nonviolent (save for the occasional bench-clearing brawl), and there are plenty of built-in breaks to allow for Cracker Jack runs and idle chatter.

Baseball also inspires a feeling of unity among the fans in the stands. When the home team needs a hit or a strikeout, fans chant and rave in unison to fire up the homers, and distract the visitors.

The organist senses the vibe from the crowd and rustles up a catchy tune to keep the good times rollin’.

Football and basketball games offer similar experiences, but the energy at a baseball game is so much more inviting. It’s much more a family event, and the pace is slower by nature. Plus, there aren’t nearly as many rules to follow.

Football and basketball can be difficult to grasp for the novice sports fan, but in baseball, all you need to know is hit, catch, throw. Four balls, three strikes, three outs. It’s simple ... in theory.

That’s another one of baseball’s greatest draws. It seems so simple, yet it’s so very complex.

There are countless strategic subtleties about the game that only a lifelong fan or baseball scholar would even want to grasp.

The many signs being flashed around the diamond, telling runners whether or not they should steal, or telling hitters they need to pull the ball to the right side.

Casual observers may not understand the art of creating a batting order or setting a pitching rotation, but each of these elements contributes to baseball’s majesty.

It’s truly a thinking man’s game, which is why there are so many books written and documentaries made on the subject.

But, while full comprehension of the rules and strategies may lend a more exciting aspect to this relatively slow-paced game, most of the confusing stuff can be easily bypassed.

You don’t have to be a baseball scholar or even a baseball fan to enjoy an evening at the ballpark.

Being outside while sharing smiles and good times with other happy people is something we can all look forward to.

Baseball may take a while to grow on you, but once you buy into the experience, it could very well be life-changing.

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