I caught a few innings of Major League Baseball's All Star Game last night. Aside from bringing back memories of The 1991 All Star Game in Toronto (a live event Sarah and I attended) this year's game reinforced my belief that baseball is the toughest team sport to play well at the highest level.
It's not as physical as football or hockey, doesn't need the conditioning of soccer, true. But it's got to be the toughest when it comes to hand eye co-ordination, timing and the mental element.
Both teams had an awesome contingent of offensive players, and a number of home runs were blasted out of AT&T Park. One even stayed in the park - Ichiro's inside-the-parker was the first in over 70 years of All Star games. However, the pitching - oh that pitching- is the reason baseball is so tough.
As a batter in an all star game, you start out hitting against the top pitcher in the other league - a guy you likely haven't faced much. This starter is only going a couple of innings so he's amped and just going to let it all hang out with his best stuff. He's followed by another guy just as good and unfamiliar.
In the middle innings the National League hitters had to contend with a hard throwing lefty, then the 100 MPH fastball and nasty slider of a guy who was coming off a recent no-hitter, then Johan Santana's change-up and 95 MPH heat. And after that they got a steady diet of the top closers in the American League. It's a testimonial to how good the NL hitters are that they made it close in the 9th.
The fact that a baseball all-star game is a tough low scoring affair also shows that it is a real game played for keeps - unlike hockey where a check is never thrown or basketball where they just run and gun for 48 minutes without any defense.