“The one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good, and what could be again.” – James Earl Jones in Field of Dreams
“Baseball is an allegorical play about America, a poetic, complex, and subtle play of courage, fear, good luck, mistakes, patience about fate, and sober self-esteem.” ~Saul Steinberg
“Baseball is reassuring. It makes me feel as if the world is not going to blow up.” ~Sharon Olds, This Sporting Life, 1987
I’m sitting down watching game one of the World Series and as usual the Giants until the bottom of the 5th inning were playing it close in their unique “tortureball” way that drives Giants fans as well as their opponents absolutely nuts. Now at the end of the 5th they lead 8-2 after beating up the vaunted Cliff Lee for 7 runs in 4.2 innings pitched. But that is not the point of this article; it is an article about hope in a time of turmoil. I could write about the Lord being a hope in time of trouble and that is certainly true but unfortunately so many people are using God as a bludgeon against their political opponents I’m not even going to go there. I figure that the Deity is pretty sick of how he or she gets used by people for their own agendas and although I believe with all of my heart that God is a refuge and help in time of trouble.
As anyone that reads this site on a regular basis knows that I am a member of the Church of Baseball, Harbor Park Parish and that baseball is much more than a game to me. Yes I love the details, statistics and nuances of this beautiful game played upon that lovely and lush diamond but the game is much more than that it is the heart and soul of America. I know that Football is now the most popular sport in the country but it is different, it is a sport of combat, speed and violence a sport which while there are lessons that can be learned from it its’ appeal is to our violent and warlike side.
As John Leonard in the New York Times said back in 1975 “Baseball happens to be a game of cumulative tension but football, basketball and hockey are played with hand grenades and machine guns.” Roger Kahn one of the nation’s most gifted sports writers said “Basketball, hockey and track meets are action heaped upon action, climax upon climax, until the onlooker’s responses become deadened. Baseball is for the leisurely afternoons of summer and for the unchanging dreams.”
I think that this year’s World Series is symbolic of the Spirit of this country where we see two great teams that embody all that is good about this country. There are the stories of excellence in Cliff Lee and Tim Lincecum, the stories of second chances and redemption in men like Josh Hamilton and Texas Manger Ron Washington recovering from addictions to drugs and alcohol, the stories of players cast off by other teams like Cody Ross, Pat Burrell and Aubrey Huff and the stories of young men like Neftali Feliz, Buster Posey, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Elvis Andrus, stories of the eccentric epitomized by Giants closer Brian Wilson, natural born Americans and immigrants and so many other stories. These are stories about us, stories that hearken back to the times when Americans actually believed in a good future and were willing to work with each other despite political differences to make it happen.
The teams were not considered among baseball’s elite at the beginning of the season and neither was picked to win their divisions. Their payrolls pale in comparison to the Yankees, Phillies and even the Cubs and the Rangers were just rescued from bankruptcy by baseball legend Nolan Ryan. In a time of recession and uncertainty such teams relate to everyday Americans because they seem to be real, made up of flawed people, people that needed second chances and have triumphed.
Both the Rangers and Giants have special fan bases, the Rangers fans epitomize middle America and the Giants fans, well they are as diverse as the city that their Giants represent.
I agree with Bill “Spaceman Lee” who said “I would change policy, bring back natural grass and nickel beer. Baseball is the belly-button of our society. Straighten out baseball, and you straighten out the rest of the world.” Baseball is the bell weather of America and a place that we can all go to if we want. Thankfully it seems that baseball after the gratuitous excess of the steroids era has recovered itself, maybe we will never get back to nickel beer but we can recover our soul as a nation.
In baseball you have opponents, not enemies and while you play them hard you never dehumanize them. I think that in the poisonous political and social environment of 2010 where political or ideological opponents are no longer fellow Americans that we may differ with but enemies to be defeated destroyed and trampled under violently if necessary. In baseball there is a decorum that is seldom breeched but in our society such decorum is sadly lacking and there is blame on all sides of the body politic.
Maybe we can learn something as a nation from this World Series which happens to share the national stage with one of the vilest election seasons that I have ever seen where Republicans and Democrats alike share the blame for the mess that we are in. Maybe we can learn from the game that was with us during our Civil War, through the Great Depression and World Wars, through the social upheaval of the 1960s and the current wars and worldwide economic crisis that has so severely impacted the people of our country.
For me baseball has been there in good times and bad and in the worst and most desolate time in my life, the two years after I returned from Iraq damaged in mind, body and spirit that diamond was the one place that I could find peace.
Here’s to the Rangers and the Giants, the men and their stories and their fans. I hope that we all learn something from them this year.