There's Something About Baseball
We love sports. Pretty much all sports. We get excited for each new season, pore anxiously over new equipment catalogs, and revel in the satisfaction of introducing new generations to a game. But there’s something about baseball. Stanley Cohen said, “Baseball, almost alone among our sports, traffics unashamedly and gloriously in nostalgia, for only baseball understands time and treats it with respect. The history of other sports seems to begin anew with each generation, but baseball, that wondrous myth of twentieth century America, gets passed on like an inheritance.” When Tiger Woods was a young rookie on the PGA Tour, Jack Nicklaus, perhaps the greatest to ever swing a golf club, said, “He’s playing a game that I’m not familiar with.” Golf, like many of today’s sports, has changed dramatically since the days of gutta-percha balls and hickory sticks. In the early days of football, a 300-lb player would keep his opponents from stepping onto the gridiron. If you want a good chuckle, watch a video of a college basketball game from the 1950’s. But there’s something about baseball. Certainly, the game has changed with player conditioning (and certainly the scourge of steroids). Many parks now resound with the “ting” of aluminum instead of the crack of ash on leather. But at its essence, it’s the same game we’ve played for over 100 years. Lacrosse is like that: Use this basket on a stick and put the ball into a goal. There is only so much that one can do with soccer. Go anywhere in the world, and young men and women, regardless of class or culture, are playing the same sport – maneuvering a ball down a pitch. But there’s something about baseball. Carl Sandburg, great American poet, said in his poem “Hit or Miss,” “I REMEMBER the Chillicothe ball players grappling the Rock Island ball players in a sixteen-inning game ended by darkness. And the shoulders of the Chillicothe players were a red smoke against the sundown and the shoulders of the Rock Island players were a yellow smoke against the sundown. And the umpire’s voice was hoarse calling balls and strikes and outs and the umpire’s throat fought in the dust for a song.” It is a sort of poetry, and a metaphor for life. A pitcher stands alone and faces down a single batter, resolute in the knowledge that his failure will bring his team leaping into action. There is no technology that can aid him in his delivery. There is no clock bringing play to a stop. It is a dance in stunning silence, punctuated by moments of unbridled excitement. Perhaps that’s why so many players dream of making “The Big Dance.” To experience the simple purity of the sport, go watch a little league game. A young pitcher kicks up puffs of dirt as he digs in for his windup. He’ll hurl this one like a young Zeus, lightening fast, and surely this one will curve. He knows it. It will curve. The batter stands coiled like a snake. He’s steely-eyed, and poised, Bunyanesque, with the bat well off the shoulder. It waves and wobbles, ready for a certain hit. Contact is made, and a cacophony of directions ring out. Coaches, players, and parents scream out the play. Fielders run pell-mell, searching for their spot in the cut-off, positioning for the play. For that one, brief moment, it could be 1890. It could be a vacant lot, or Comisky Park, or Wrigley Field. For that one, brief moment, each player is Ted Williams. Each young boy or girl harnesses the power of Ty Cobb or Cecil Fielder. It happens to millions of people every Spring. There’s something about baseball.