It lacks the pulse-pounding intensity of football, the constant motion of basketball, or even the artistry of top-level soccer. No, it’s a sport that requires a great degree of patience and appreciation for its own, unique charms.
These days, with our attention spans crunched down to nothing thanks to the modern of on-demand, I-want-it-now Internet culture, it is – admittedly – a lot harder to sit through a baseball game. There just always seems to be something more exciting out there. It takes a special, special baseball player to transcend that malaise, to be so overwhelmingly good that you can’t take your eyes off him whenever he’s on the field, like Jackie Robinson did when he broke in and like Barry Bonds (at the height of his non-steroid peak) could.
The good news is that we have one of those players active right now. Andrew McCutchen is the starting center fielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates. That’s not the special part, of course – there have been a lot of starting center fielders for the moribund Pirates over the past decade. What’s special is everything else about him. The 25-year-old McCutchen, at an age when most of us are still trying to figure out what we want to do with our lives, might be the best player in all of baseball. He’s batting a mind-boggling .369, with 22 home runs, 66 RBI and 14 stolen bases – numbers that make him the clear favorite for the National League MVP, a breathtaking combination of power, speed and hitting skill. He’s also got the Pirates – one of the worst franchises in sport for a long time – primed to make a serious run at the playoffs, which is a feat worthy of canonization all by itself.
The other thing that makes McCutchen unique? He’s an African-American superstar in a sport that increasingly losing any sort of presence in the African-American community. If all goes according to the current rankings, McCutchen and the sport’s other award-worthy African-American stars – like David Price of the Rays and Matt Kemp of the Dodgers – could be playing well into October. What a boon that would be for a deserving superstar like McCutchen, and the game as a whole.