May 3rd, 2023

Take me out to the Ball Game

Baseball is quintessentially American. It’s the country’s pastime, a sport that draws passionate crowds, a game that requires little explanation: its popularity followed wherever its inventors took it and there’s no corner of the country that doesn’t feature its unmistakeable, diamond-shaped field of play.

Watching a game is a true experience of pure Americana – there’s mascots, the fans are as much a show as what happens on the sporting side, and the game itself is tailor-made for broadcast. Look closer, though, and there is more than meets the eye. Baseball is more than just USA: it’s a sport that followed its inventors wherever they went and is now popular in places as far afield as Cuba, Europe, and Japan. Leagues sprouted in every country; international competitions followed suit.

Formula One led on a similar path, moving from its European origins to become a truly global sport: its icons recognised the world over; its venues spread across the planet. Geographical spread, however, is not the only thing linking these two sports, for there are more, subtler connections that appear the moment one scratches under the surface.

Like Formula One, baseball is a game where data plays a big role: teams (and fans) analyse batting percentages; they delve into the details of every player’s performance, picking fragments of data and making sense of what happens in front of their eyes. Statistics, numbers: they all contribute to prepare a fixture; they inform the teams on what to expect from their rivals – and themselves. And yet, like in Formula One when the car leaves the garage, all this analysis is only the first part of the job: then comes the competition, the big day – and then, it’s down to the performance of the team, of the individual players, to turn theory into practice and deliver the goods.

Like the F1 calendar, baseball is made up of discrete stages making up the final result: each inning, like a new race, is a chance to do better; each is a chance to turn the game on its head, defy expectations and fight back, no matter what happened before. Nine innings in baseball; 23 races in a Formula One season: the road ahead is still long and there’s time for the team to push its way back where we need to be.

As we head to Florida, we’ll have a lesson in baseball, as Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu meet the Miami Marlins and Zhou throws the first pitch in their Wednesday game. It will take skill, dedication and a little bit of luck to do a good job; but the biggest lesson we can take as we visit the diamond, is how to turn the tide of a difficult game.

“Take me out to the ball game,” said the old song. When the going gets tough, we’ll be at the bat, ready to hit hard.