Football replaced baseball as America’s pastime a long time ago. It has for me too, despite my ethical concerns with football and the business of football.
But baseball was my first love. It’s a beautiful game, and a game I desperately wanted to play. I played youth league baseball in the 4th and 5th grades – I was awful. I could field the ball OK, but I had a very weak arm and I couldn’t hit at all. At All.
So I learned to keep score and I earned a letter as the statistician of my junior high baseball team. I don’t remember if I asked about keeping the stats for the high school team and was turned down, or if I just decided to do something else. The baseball coach was also the advanced math teacher and we were on good terms (I was a lot better at math than at baseball), so I tend to think I just didn’t ask, but I honestly can’t remember.
I started playing slow pitch softball when I got out of college: sometimes low-level industrial leagues, sometimes church leagues. I could hit a softball (just not very far), and if I worked hard and played hard, I could keep up with the former jocks who were playing on cruise control. Sometimes, anyway. I enjoyed it for quite a few years, which included the early years of my Pagan exploration… and a softball field was where I learned a very important lesson about magical repercussions. That’s a story I will not tell on the blog, and maybe not in person.
I stopped playing softball when I started running seriously. I had a bad night playing on a bad field. I took three hard ground balls off my shins – the last one came a fraction of an inch from hitting my knee. As I scrambled to recover the ball, I realized that if that ball had been just a bit higher, I’d be sidelined from running for weeks and my dreams of running a marathon would be gone. And so that was that.
After I stopped playing softball, my interest in baseball started to wane. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Then I moved away from Atlanta where the Braves were toward the end of their 14 straight division championships and to Texas where the Rangers were bad and everybody talked about the Cowboys year-round. I got caught up with the rest of North Texas in the World Series trips of 2010 and 2011, but while I follow baseball, I don’t watch much baseball any more.
But there’s still something magical about hearing “pitchers and catchers report” during the coldest days of February. There’s something special about Opening Day and the early games in April when everyone still has hope. So in celebration of the Great American Rites of Spring, and in hopes of convincing some of you too-cool-for-sports Pagans to take a closer look at this great game, here are four reasons why baseball is a Pagan game.
Baseball is the most pastoral of all the major sports. Tending the grass and the dirt is a big part of preparing to play – a good groundskeeper can make a difference in making your park more friendly to your team. Baseball is played in a park, and no two parks are the same. A few of the parks are really old (by American standards, anyway) – diehard baseball fans consider them temples, and some include actual shrines.
Baseball is full of magic. OK, so most baseball magic falls into the category of superstition, but no other game has as many. Rally caps, religious gestures, don’t step on the foul line, always tap your bat on the ground, and if something works, don’t ever EVER change it.
Baseball has sacrifice. Sacrifice bunts, sacrifice flies, hitting behind the runner, taking a hit-by-pitch – baseball is full of ways in which a player makes a sacrifice for the greater good. And sometimes, more religious sacrifices are involved.
Baseball covers ¾ of the Wheel of the Year. Baseball begins in the spring, at the time of planting, when Nature begins to awaken from her winter sleep. It continues through the long hot summer – it isn’t enough to plant, you have to tend your crops as well. A game in June counts just as much in the standings as a game in September. In the fall we have the harvest – the teams that have played the best throughout the course of the long season move on to the playoffs. And the season doesn’t end till Samhain – some years not till afterwards.
These are four reasons why baseball is a Pagan game, but I have no desire to claim it for us. It’s a wonderful game, played passionately in Latin America, in Japan, in Korea, and here in North America. It belongs to everyone who ever picked up a bat and glove or who cheers for those who do. It lacks the athleticism of basketball, the speed of hockey, and the violence of football, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If it’s been a while since you’ve seen a game, go find one on TV, or better yet, find a live game somewhere – major league, minor league, college, high school, or youth league. Grab a bag of peanuts and relax for a couple hours.
George Carlin didn’t say half the things Facebook memes credit to him, but he did do one of the greatest comedy routines of all time: “Football or Baseball.” Enjoy it.
This is the last of my pre-trip posts. I’ll be back to regular blogging on Thursday.