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Five baseball facts from an anthropologist/superfan

With the MLB season in full swing and the All-Star Game a month away, David Piacenti dishes on the trivia-worthy traits that make our national pastime unique.

June 10, 2021

By Daniel J Vaccaro

Baseball season is already more than two months old. Fans are back in the stands at Coors Field, and Denver is poised to host this year’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game.

While it looks to be an uphill battle for the hometown Rockies, there’s still a lot to love and learn about America’s pastime.

RED went around the horn with David Piacenti, Ph.D., an anthropologist at Metropolitan State University of Denver and baseball superfan, for five facts that are sure to strike up conversation.

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No clock, no problem

Baseball is the only major sport with no clock. And that is firmly rooted in its history, Piacenti said.

The game evolved in pastoral places, where families could bring a picnic and not have to focus completely on the action. Piacenti said that’s why the term “pastime” is a better descriptor than “sport,” which presupposes a more active approach for spectators.

“The lack of a clock means a game could theoretically go on forever, so you can turn away for a minute and probably not miss too much,” he said. “And to this day, people still bring their own food into the park to eat as a family.”

As Piacenti sees it, the relaxed pace – which some critics bemoan – is an opportunity for people to embrace the warm weather and blow off some steam after a long winter.

One size does not fit all

Professional-level football fields, basketball courts and hockey rinks are always a standard size.

“But the baseball field is unique everywhere you go, with different dimensions and quirks that can impact the game,” said Piacenti, who also works as a guest-relations ambassador for the Colorado Rockies and volunteers at the National Ballpark Museum.

The Green Monster at Fenway Park in Boston is an obvious example. With the left field fence only 315 feet from home plate, the 37-foot wall helps limit what would otherwise be an exorbitant number of home runs.

Coors Field tries to keep balls in the park too. Prior to the 2016 season, the outfield fence was raised from 8 feet to 13 feet in the left-field corner and to 16.5 feet in front of the bullpens in right-center field.

Denver's Department of Public Health and Environment at the beginning of the month lifted Covid-19 capacity restrictions on large outdoor venues operated by the city, including Coors Field.

Not just America's pastime

Baseball might have been invented in the United States, but it’s been adopted around the world.

Piacenti’s academic work often focuses on Latin American countries, which have storied baseball traditions. “Mexico and the Caribbean are hotspots for some of the best baseball in the world,” he said.

Chinese Taipei, South Korea and Japan also feature fantastic baseball, he said.

That international interest bodes well for Denver and the MLB All-Star Game, which Piacenti said will put the Mile High City in the global spotlight for the week of July 13.

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Never a dull moment

Critics pan baseball games for being too long – and boring. But Piacenti said baseball is one of the only sports in which you regularly witness something unique. That’s in part due to the number of chances that occur in a 162-game schedule and over the 152-year professional history of the sport.

Piacenti recalled a game at Coors Field when then-Rockie Carlos Gonzalez hit a walk-off grand slam to complete the cycle, meaning he’d hit a single, double, triple and then a home run in the same game. That moment was a first in MLB history – in over 200,000 games.

“Baseball has a way of creating unique moments,” he said. “All we need to do is keep watching.”

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