The most popular professional sport in Japan is baseball, so it’s little wonder that anime about baseball has produced some of the classics of the medium, and that of all sports anime, baseball is king. We’ve touched on past classics like Cross Game, Oofuri, and, well, Touch—but this anime season features well-regarded baseball anime, too, in Mix and Ace of Diamond.
If you’re like me and just can’t shake your passion for baseball anime, there are ways to explore your obsession beyond animation. In addition to the team aspect, the game itself has so much to offer—the history and minutiae of the sport provide much of its charm. Here are six ways to look into those aspects and feed your addiction.
1. Hit the batting cages
My family has been making its way through Ace of Diamond, and I asked my kids if they wanted to experience what it would be like to try to hit a pitch from Furuya, so we headed over to the local batting cages to give it a swing! If you’ve never been to a batting cage, it is a load of fun. Depending on your location, you might get a machine that offers all levels of pitching speeds, as well as both softballs and baseballs.
There’s a feeling of accomplishment at being able to hit progressively faster pitches. And because it’s more difficult to organize a baseball game (other than a traditional softball team at some workplaces) than basketball or soccer, batting cages are perhaps the closest you’ll get to experiencing the sport outside a school setting. And even in what amounts to a practice setting, you feel a bit like you’re participating—there’s athleticism needed to hit a fast pitch, and it can hurt your hands when you connect. But it also feels good to hit the ball just right! Not to mention that this is good way to work off some aggression, too!
2. Play fantasy baseball
I didn’t play baseball as a kid, and I rarely played catch with my dad, favoring basketball or football. But what took me from moderate fan to fanatic was the world of fantasy sports. Although football is now the fantasy sport that rules them all, baseball was the originator and is still best. Why? For a number a reasons: you have to work at it daily, the pool of players is large, games are based on metrics and a long-term approach rather than short-term glory, and statistics have always been an important consideration of the game. That last point is particularly important here—if numbers fascinate you, fantasy baseball is a way to connect to the math that dominates this sport.
But it’s also just fun to connect with the big league players. Baseball doesn’t draw many viewers on television, at least not until the fall—it’s through the competition of fantasy sports, though, that you can learn about the athletes. If you only know the biggest names in the MLB, or none at all, take a chance at building a team next season!
3. Attend a game
I mentioned earlier that baseball isn’t a great television viewing experience—it’s meant to be experienced through sound (turn up that radio!) and in person. Thankfully, the farm system (minor leagues) ensures that even if you don’t live in a huge city, there should be good baseball to watched somewhere near you. Even teams not associated with the MLB have leagues throughout the United States.
A baseball game is like no other—the slowness of baseball, a deterrent when it comes to deciding on what to watch on your screen at home, makes for a good experience in person. You can take in every at bat, every decision being made. Your focus isn’t only on the batter, but on the pitcher, fielders, and coaches. The sounds are even better in the ballpark as well—the umps calls, the thwap of the catcher receiving the ball, the shouts from the crowd, and of course, the ting or smack of the baseball bat. Grab a beer and a hot dog (and if you prefer, Cracker Jacks), and the experience is complete!
4. Collect trading cards
The heyday of trading cards is long gone. The site of kids sitting on the ground offering to trade this card for that is now part of nostalgia, of a time long past. And The sound of baseball cards flickering against the spokes of a bike wheel are totally foreign. Trading cards are no longer part of youth.
My kids have a few packs though, even if they aren’t obsessed like I was. But you might discover an interest in collecting! Different companies release different sets of cards, so there’s a real wide variety to the types you can collect. And, just like collecting an item in a game, the rarity of finding certain cards or grabbing your favorite player elicits emotion. It’s exciting and fun to become a collector. So why not spend $4 on a pack of cards? You might just find yourself a new fun hobby!
5. Watch Ken Burns’ Baseball
Baseball just isn’t the same as it once was—it’s not like it was in the 70’s, 80’s, or even 90’s, and certainly not like its high point, which was 50 to 100 or more years ago. What was it about the game that makes it almost hallowed? Why is there a mystique to it that goes beyond just performance on the field? Why is it treasured in America more than the sports that have surpassed it in popularity?
Ken Burns, the famed documentary filmmaker, shows us the answer to those questions in his masterpiece, Baseball. I remember watching this when it first aired on PBS in the 90s. My dad and I were excited to see this tradition—for baseball is more than a sport—explored from its origins and especially in its history. The documentary totally delivered. I’m speaking to the choir here, folks who already have some interest in the sport, but this series is fascinating even for those that have no real interest in the game. Baseball is available for both streaming and purchase through Amazon.
6. Read baseball manga
My final suggestion is the most obvious one—if you like baseball anime, go read baseball manga. There’s a reason why so many of these series are acclaimed—they’re based on manga which are equally or even more beloved. Go check out the manga of any of the series you enjoy, and of those that don’t have an anime series (and there are plenty).
My favorite all-time manga, sports or otherwise, it Mitsuru Adachi’s Cross Game. As much as I love the anime, Adachi does an even more masterful job of relaying silence, sound, youth, loss, humor, and melancholy. It’s a wonderful series, and available in omnibus format.
So there you go, guys—your love of baseball doesn’t have to end when your favorite anime series comes to a close. Go check out the field and see what else is available, and I think you’ll be surprised at how you’ll appreciate the game above just how its portrayed in animation.