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A Baseball Tutorial

A trip to the ballpark with some friends who didn't grow up with the great American pastime offers a chance to explain the game. But a question about why the Chicago Cubs retain such a fan base goes unanswered.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Sometimes it takes outsiders to help you see what you love in a fresh way. My wife and I took a couple of friends to a baseball game this week - Anne Marie(ph) from France and Nishan(ph) from India. Our 4-year-old brought her glove and ate a tub of cotton candy. Our 7-month-old tried to eat the glove.

Ann Marie pointed at the field in surprise and asked, how old are these athletes? I got defensive.

Baseball is a game of complexities, I said. It takes time to learn the subtleties. Most great stars are in their 30s. And I realized, she'd pointed at the Chicago Cubs' first base coach. Matt Sinatro is 49, which is not much older than Roger Clemens, but from the look of it, Matt Sinatro has been hired for his baseball acumen not his athletic prowess. He certainly isn't the condition coach.

The game was played in Washington, D.C., but half the crowd seemed to be draped in Cubby-Blue. Cub fans seemed to wear team jerseys and silly hats, and that fans kept sending messages on their BlackBerries, our four-year-old ate a hotdog, our seven-month-old ate her napkin.

I explained the game's essentials to our friends. If the pitcher throws a ball over the plate, it's a strike, unless it misses then it's a ball. Or if it's a hit, it's hit unless it's caught then it's an out. Three strikes and you're out, I said. And a man walks if he has four balls. I thought I could see Anne Marie's eyes really widen at that one.

Anne Marie asked why doesn't the man who squats behind the plate run out and catch the ball before the man with the stick can hit it. I could have answered: It's not baseball. Instead, I thought, what a brilliant idea.

Now Nishat is a mad, keen cricket fan who understand bats, balls and bases. But he thought the game often seem mere distraction from all the hotdog eating, beer drinking, T-shirt-shooting, and on-field promotions.

At one point, an insurance company ran a race between enormous mocked-up puppets of five U.S. presidents, including one that look like Larry King. Did I miss Larry King being president?

I, Larry King, do solemnly swear to preserve, protect and defend Paris Hilton.

Anyway, Anne Marie asked: they just let these people run on to the field into the middle of the game? I said, no, I have to pay for it.

Our four-year-old got a big foam rubber floppy hand to wave. Our seven-month-old tried to eat it. Whenever a Cub reached first base, their fans applauded in a way that say, French people cheer for Jerry Lewis, and the woman sitting behind us who had been following the tutorial asks if the Cubs are so bad, how do they have so many fans?

(Soundbite of song "A Dying Cubs Fan's Last Request")

Mr. STEVE GOODMAN (Singer): (Singing) Do they still play the blues in Chicago when baseball season rolls around? When the snow melts away, do the Cubbies still play in their ivy-covered burial ground? When I was a boy they were my pride and joy, but now they only bring fatigue to the home of the brave, the land of the free, and the doormat of the National League.

Told his friends, you know the law of averages says: Anything will happen that can. That's what it says. But the last time the Cubs won a National League pennant was the year we dropped the bomb on Japan. The Cubs made me a criminal. Sent me down a wayward path. They stole my youth from me. That's the truth. I'd forsake my teachers to go sit in the bleachers in flagrant truancy. And then one thing led to another, and soon I discovered alcohol, gambling, dope, football.

SIMON: Met's(ph) an old friend, and this is NPR News.

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Simon SaysSimon Says NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small