Baseball Invites Reverie and Prose like No Other Sport

Baseball Invites Reverie and Prose like No Other Sport March 31, 2014

Very much enjoyed Mike Barnicle’s piece on “The Timeless Beauty of Baseball”:

But nobody really grows out of baseball. Go ahead. Do it. Put the glove on your hand. Flip the ball in the air and it’s 1958 and Teddy Ballgame is in the batter’s box, or it’s 1967 and ‘Yaz’ is dragging the Red Sox across September into the impossible dream of a world series. Catch it and you can still hit and still run and still stand in the infield or outfield, hands on your knees, waiting for the pitcher to throw a heater, a slider, a curve. A sandlot, a playground, a high school field … You own them all for that one moment.

And when you open your eyes, sitting there in Section 16 or your living room, the players look kind of like you, don’t they?
Listen to the voice of baseball. Listen to Vin Scully. Listen to the game itself. It is telling you to chill, relax, reorder your priorities, winter is behind us, put the heavy coat in the closet, go outdoors, wear short sleeves, enjoy the sunshine, enjoy life.

No other sport does this, sets such a mood of pleasant, almost-holy, reverie. No other sport gets us harkening back to memories of slow, lazy days; of children and adults together, watching a game, or — sometimes even better — listening to it on the radio while seeding a yard, or catching a fish, or lingering over their sandwiches and lemonade, at lunch.:

Of all the seasons, it is perhaps easiest to put on the mind of a child in the summer, when the days are long and filled with sweet iced tea and fireflies, and even the oldest members of society go out in public wearing short pants and sandals. It is a season when flowers bud and tomato plants grow high, when you can stand on a shore, or before a roller coaster, and suddenly feel very small and full of wonder. Summer is a season of optimism, the virtuous by-product of childlike faith, and nowhere is that optimism more evident, and more innocent, than on a baseball field.

If you don’t believe it, ask any fan of the Chicago Cubs who has spent every April in gleeful anticipation, fervently believing that “this year” (it doesn’t matter which year, exactly) will be the one in which the Cubbies take it all, only to stand amid the falling leaves of October and gaze wistfully upon an empty field, thinking, “Next year… next year will be our year.”

George Will has written, “Baseball, it is said, is only a game. True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona.”

Baseball is so much more than a game. A mere game does not, year after year, inspire prose like this:

“This was a new recognition that perfection is admirable but a trifle inhuman, and that a stumbling kind of semi-success can be much more warming. Most of all, perhaps, these exultant yells for the Mets were also yells for ourselves, and came from a wry, half-understood recognition that there is more Met than Yankee in every one of us. I knew for whom that foghorn blew; it blew for me.”
― Roger Angell, “The Summer Game”

So true, this reminds me of Yankee Stadium, after 9/11:

Now, improbably, New York City, bluest of the blue communities, is rooting for George W. Bush, because there’s so much riding on this one pitch, so much symbolism, so much meaning. They want him to succeed, because it means that New York will succeed; America will succeed. It means they’ll get through this new and terrible reality together, no matter what it takes. Optimism. Childlike faith.

Bush gains the mound and gives the crowd a thumbs up. They roar. He stands motionless for a moment. And then, with a quick look at the Yankee catcher, Jorge Posada, the president throws.

A perfect strike! Yankee Stadium erupts. People from every political and economic persuasion — Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Rosie O’ Donnell — are jumping and screaming. The people in the stands are weeping, in sorrow and in hope.

It is only a strike, but it’s a perfect strike. And at that moment, it means everything.

And then there is this:

“If there was magic in this world, it happened within sight of the three bases and home plate. All the gems in my world that decorated the walls and floors of dragons’ lairs, the sword hilts of privileged princes, and crowns worn by emperors and kings, were nothing compared to the beauty and splendor of the diamond in Wrigley Stadium. It wasn’t just a yard with dirt, chalk lines, bases, and a small hill in its center. Wrigley was a field of dreams. Dreams of eternal glory for the men who ran to the outfield, who took their respective bases, and prepared for battle against those who would dare enter their hallowed realm. Dreams for the kids in the stands, all wanting to don a uniform, kiss their moms goodbye, and wield their bats as enchanted weapons destined to knock the cover off the ball. And for the adults who had already selected their lot in life, Wrigley made the dreams of past innocence, lost wonder, and the promise that there was something inherently good still left in the world, come true.

Yeah, corny as hell. But all true.”
― Tee Morris, The Case of the Pitcher’s Pendant: A Billibub Baddings Mystery

Indeed, it is. Corny, but true; true because there is a quality to baseball that reflects every aspect of our lives, including those anxious moments where we are clutched and barely dare to breath:

The clutch makes us hold our breath in the name of love. It is the biopsy report we are waiting to hear about on our husband; it is what keeps us from fully sleeping until we hear our kid pull into the driveway; it is the acknowledgment that we lack control over an outcome, and the wondering that comes before the knowing. Within the clutch are contained all the possibilities of our wild imaginings, and it is in those imaginings that we find ourselves hating the object of our love, for making us care so deeply. . .it is only in surrender that the clutch is resolved. Eventually, a pitcher must release the ball from his callused fingers and send it spinning into the arcane triune powers of physics, probability, and pure skill, and the batter must commit to an outcome with both swing and stride. . .

Baseball is a game of inches. And hours. And in those moments between release and resolution are contained particles of infinity — the space between a prayer of supplication and the surrender of “Amen”; the whisper of intention that brings what is empty and void into fullness. The hope for redemption.

It is the greatest game in the world, because it is a game full of heart, and because that is so, it fully engages our own. Perhaps no one has ever captured that truth as perfectly as Bart Giammatti:

It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone.
— A. Bartlett Giamatti, The Green Fields of the Mind

Sweet, and slow and ultimately, such a wistful and blue, blue thing, is baseball.

And yet, there is never any crying.

Take George Will’s
2014 Opening Day Quiz

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