It's called baseball for a reason. The concept of a safe haven for voyagers on their way home provides the subtext for every game, and when we look out upon the field, we think we see the same three comforting, white, 15-inch-by-15-inch squares that our ancestors did. "Pillows," they used to be called. "Bags," they still are.
Even the Major League Baseball Rule Book makes them sound inviting:
1.06 First, second and third bases shall be marked by white canvas or rubber-covered bags, securely attached to the ground ... The bags shall be 15 inches square, not less than three nor more than five inches thick, and filled with soft material.
Hello, sweetheart, get me rewrite. It's not a bag any more, but a hard rubber shell around more rubber, and it has very little give. It is so securely anchored to the ground that it would take a bulldozer to move it. Painted regularly for aesthetics, it is so slippery that players feel the need to put dirt on it. The base is high enough to trip up runners -- and bear a team logo on the side that is visible from the upper deck. It is crowned in such a way that an occupant is liable to feel as if he or she is standing on a boat.
Players might be safe when they reach them, but they're not safe attempting to arrive. The recent list of seemingly irresistible names losing out to the immovable objects known as first, second and third is unfairly long:
• Bryce Harper of the Nationals sprained his left thumb diving into third on a triple on April 25 and won't be seen in the lineup again until July.
• Teammate Ryan Zimmerman broke his right thumb diving back into second on a pickoff attempt on April 13 and probably will miss another six weeks.
• Mike Napoli of the Red Sox dislocated his ring finger sliding headfirst into second on a wild pitch on April 15 and is still having trouble swinging the bat.
• Josh Hamilton of the Angels tore the ulnar ligament in his left thumb diving headfirst into first base on April 8. He won't be back until July.
• Yasiel Puig of the Dodgers slid headfirst into first on April 5, straining a thumb ligament that kept him out of the lineup for two games.
• Manny Machado is only now returning to the Orioles after blowing out his knee when he stepped on first base the wrong way in September.
• Michael Bourn of the Indians cut his hand open(!) diving into first base in September, necessitating five stitches.
• Dustin Pedroia of the Red Sox gamely played the entire 2013 season with a torn ligament in his thumb suffered while diving into first on Opening Day.
All of them are marquee players whom their managers -- and marketing departments -- can ill afford to lose. The same goes for Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons, who sprained a thumb in 2013 and broke a pinkie in 2012, both while sliding into second.
Where would the Phillies be without Chase Utley and Ryan Howard? Well, they found out in the 2010 season when Utley was lost six weeks with a thumb injury incurred while sliding headfirst and Howard went on the DL after spraining his ankle trying to get back to second.
As their teammate, shortstop Jimmy Rollins, says, "There is no forgiveness in a base. I've been hanging around second base for a while now, so trust me on this."