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9 Days

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There is no game like baseball, because the world doesn't need more than one sport built around losing.

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In many ways major league baseball players have the greatest job on earth. No other professional sport pays its players as well, or has a union so strong as the one that Marvin Miller fashioned out of the plight of Curt Flood, Andy Messersmith, Dave McNalley, and all those that came before them. While football players turn their minds and bodies to dust for our amusement, and basketball uses the artificiality of a salary cap to limit the earning potential of its greatest stars, baseball offers the greatest gain, for the healthiest life, of any game we have.

It is, however, a game who's solar system is centered by failure. Every player who ever picked up a ball will attempt to escape its gravity, and all will inevitably run out of fuel, and be sucked downward to the very bottom. The timing is the only thing in question.

In his brief major league career, Mike Zunino has come to bat one thousand, fifty-five times. Eight hundred and sixteen times, that journey has ended with a slow, discontented stroll back to the dugout. That is a 77.3% failure rate, at the job Mike Zunino has trained his entire life to perform.

During a sterling career that should end with him enshrined in baseball's hall of fame Edgar Martinez stepped into the batter's box eight thousand, six hundred and seventy-two times. The greatest designated hitter the game has ever known was bested five thousand, one hundred and forty-two times. He failed 59.2% of the time, and we will try to melt the internet down to get him recognized among the game's elite.

59.2%-77.3%. That is the spectrum of defeat that separates baseball's greatest from baseball's saddest. Every player has had to build an unassailable mental space where constant defeat can be kept separate from bristling confidence. It encourages, almost requires, that players think illogically, to believe in their own abilities to succeed despite daily overwhelming evidence that they will not.

As knowledge of things like conditioning, nutrition, and physics continue to advance major league baseball players are armed with a warchest of data, video analysis, and world class, cutting edge workout equipment. The science of the game is pushing players' bodies farther than they have ever been pushed, and we as fans are enjoying our favorite sport being played at a higher level of skill than perhaps any time in its history. But there is nothing in a training manual or a weight bench that will allow a player to deal with a failure as constant and guaranteed as the one at the very core of baseball.

Every high a baseball player experiences, every home run, leaping catch, stolen base, or walk-off hit is outnumbered ten fold by the thousands of times he spends a few minutes in abject helplessness, as a man sixty feet, six inches away embarrasses him utterly in front of thousands upon thousands of viewers. The ability to cope with that, perhaps more than anything else, is the game within the game we love. And it is coming.

9 days...