Baseball, it is said, is only a game. True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona. Not all holes, or games, are created equal.” George Will
Baseball has always been a source of enjoyment for me. I’ve noted in numerous other posts that God speaks to me through baseball. For me there is something mystical about the game. It extends beyond the finite world in some respects and there is a symmetry to the sport unlike any other. George Will’s quote at the beginning of this post is dead on. Not all holes or games are created equal.
The game captured me in 1970-1971 when my dad began taking us to California Angels games while stationed in Long Beach California. Well before that he planted the seeds watching games on a black and white TV, playing catch, teaching me to throw, field and run the bases. While my dad thrived on all sports, baseball was the one that he gave me as a gift. He gave my brother golf, another spiritual game, which Zen masters love, but which is not to be compared with baseball because it is not in its purest form a team sport.
Other major sports such as football, basketball, hockey and soccer are limited to rectangular playing surfaces of set dimensions determined by their leagues. With the exception of a couple of old hockey rinks there is no individuality to these venues, save perhaps for team or sponsor logos. All of the other sports play a set time clock. If a team gets way ahead early, it is likely that the game will be over. While it is possible that a game could go into “overtime” the overtime in these games has different rules than regulation time. “Sudden death” “Shootouts” and truncated times show that these games are not meant to go past regulation time. It is an aberration from what is considered “normal.” In these games a team with a big lead can simply sit on the ball and run out the clock.
Baseball is not like that. In order to win you have to throw the ball over the plate and give the other team a chance to come back. The nine innings could in theory go on for eternity, as they nearly do in in W.P. Kinsella’s The Iowa Baseball Confederacy, A story which is patently eschatological, though not in a pre-millennial dispensationalist manner. Foul lines in theory go on for eternity, only the arbitrary placement of the outfield wall and the physical limitation of hitters keep the game within earthly limits. I’m sure that outfields are a lot more spacious in heaven.
Save for the late 1960s and early 1970s when fascists took over the design of stadiums in order to make them suitable to play football on, baseball parks have had their individuality. Outfield dimensions, type of grass, the kind of infield and warning track soil which is used, are all determined by the team. Some fields cater to hitters, others pitchers. And with the overthrow of the stadium fascists at Baltimore’s Camden Yards, the baseball park regained its dignity. Gone were the ugly, drab oval stadiums, fields covered in often shoddy artificial turf. The unsightly and even hideous venues such as Riverfront, Three Rivers, Veteran’s Stadium and others, even dare I say the Astrodome and Kingdome were demolished and made nice piles of rubble, replaced by beautiful ballparks each with its own unique charcter that reflect the beauty of the game.
Tomorrow I go to Norfolk’s Harbor Park to see the Commonwealth Classic an exhibition game between the Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals. This is one of the first of the new generation of minor league parks. Since the Tides were then the AAA affiliate of the New York Mets, the outfield dimensions are nearly identical to the former Shea Stadium. The outfield backs up to the East Fork of the Elizabeth River, shipyards and bridges dominate the view. There is not a bad seat in the house. Showers are expected in the morning but expected to be gone before game time.
Tomorrow the gift that my father gave me begins to unfold again as it does around this time every year. This year is different, my dad is in a nursing home in the end stage of Alzheimer’s disease. Last year he still knew enough of what was going on to talk about the Giants and diss the American League. Dad was always National League fan. He called the American League the “minor league.” He told me stories about the greats of his childhood and he was an avid fan of Pete Rose, Rose’s banishment from baseball hit him hard. I guess it was for him like the banishment of “Shoeless Joe” Jackson.
Dad gave me a gift, a gift called the game, the game of baseball. Sure, it’s only just a game. Right… in the sense of the Grand Canyon just being a hole and the Pacific Ocean a pond. Peace, Steve+