Does the young man seated in the photo above look to you like a major league baseball player?
He’s Ben Revere, 22-year-old rising star for the Minnesota Twins … and he has a number of major league games under his belt, though he was only called up from the minors in September of last year, as I recall. He is expected to have some more playing time this season, and will probably become one of the regulars the year after that.
He looks to me like some kid you might see at the mall.
It’s only when he dons a baseball uniform and gets out on the field that you see what he is really capable of.
Baseball is often referred to as a children’s game. And it’s true, the kids go out and lay out the bases, get a ball and bat and a few gloves, and play the game, as best as they are able. But when you look at the actual rules and see how the game is actually played, it becomes more obvious, it’s really a young man’s game.
It’s incredible the way it tests men’s abilities. The bases are 90 feet apart, a long way to throw a baseball with the speed and accuracy necessary to cut down a runner. But it’s also a long way for even the speediest runners to beat out that same throw.
The pitcher’s rubber on the pitching mound is 60 feet 6 inches from home plate. Try throwing a baseball with accuracy over that distance at any speed approaching the speed we see in the major leagues, and try not to bounce it in the dirt in front of home plate. It’s incredibly difficult for most anybody besides an actual professional baseball player.
And try taking a wooden bat and hit a baseball coming at you from 60 feet 6 inches away at 95 miles per hour. You’ll discover why one of the greatest batsmen of all time, Ted Williams, said it was the most difficult thing to do in all of sports.
I have noticed, as I have gotten older, how young these major league ball players are. When I was a little kid, man, they looked like big, fully-grown men, muscular and hairy. Now that I’m in my later fifties, I can’t help but see them as kids, many of them barely out of high school. I read how many of them are considered past their prime in their late 30s, and by the time they hit 40 they’re usually considered old men. Look at the Twins’ own Jim Thome, who hopes to play another year or two. He is 40, no longer plays in the field, can only run slowly around the bases, but whose power with the bat is probably as good as it ever was. He’s only eleven or so home runs away from 600 for his career, a prodigious total to be sure. Very few men have ever hit that many.
By the time they reach 40 years old, most major league players are either out of the game, or soon will be. And that’s because by that age their bodies are losing their strength and flexibility, and their skills are deteriorating. They may still be able to play the game at a very high level, but their days in the major leagues are nearly over, and they can feel the breath of their younger rivals on the back of their necks.
That’s why baseball is really a young man’s game. That’s why you rarely see middle-aged men playing major league baseball. If you see an older guy in a uniform, he’s either a fan, a coach, or a former player. But it’s a good thing to see those old men in uniform, because, while their bodies no longer can play the game at such a high level, their minds are still clear and strong, and the young men of the game can learn a lot from them. That’s why former manager Tom Kelly spends a lot of time with the Twins’ young players. That’s why it’s so good to see men like Tony Oliva, Harmon Killebrew, and Paul Molitor out on the field helping to coach and teach the young players.
Because while the game is played at its highest level by young men, it’s the old guys who hold the real knowledge about the game.