Last night was nice, I took a break and watched the MLB All Star Game. Baseball has always been a big part of my life but recently I have been so busy that I have been scarcely doing more than checking the box scores. But then there is nothing wrong with that, as Fox Mulder told Dana Scully in the X-Files episode The Unnatural when Scully told him that she couldn’t believe that he had been reading about baseball: “Reading the box scores, Scully. You’d like it. It’s like the Pythogorean Theorem for jocks. It distills all the chaos and action of any game in the history of all of baseball games into one tiny, perfect, rectangular sequence of numbers. I can look at this box and I can recreate exactly what happened on some sunny summer day back in 1947. It’s like the numbers talk to be, the comfort me. They tell me that even though lots of things change some things remain the same….”
Baseball has always been a part of my life, I have recounted that many times on this site. It is something that has grounded me throughout life ever since I could remember, and like it does the fictional Fox Mulder, baseball reminds me that in an era of massive change that some things, some really good things, remain the same, and it is reassuring as Sharon Olds wrote, “Baseball is reassuring. It makes me feel as if the world is not going to blow up.”
I know that some people find baseball boring, it isn’t fast enough, or violent enough for their taste. It’s not played on a standard sized gridiron or court, it’s not bound by the same rules of space and time as other sports. Theoretically a baseball game could last for eternity, just as the foul lines that angle out from home plate theoretically exetend to infinity, while any statistic in the game can be plotted to the most accurate decimal. It is a curious blend of sport, life, mathematics, philosophy, metaphysics, and faith, and it is a part of who we are as Americans. It is woven in to the fabric of the country, soldiers in Blue and Gray broke up the monotony of camp life during the Civil War, it helped people get through world wars and the Great Depression, and when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier it signaled the beginning of the end for Jim Crow. Kids played it in farm fields, on sandlots, and in big city neighborhoods with makeshift balls, sticks and whatever they could use as gloves. There were times when it captivated the nation even when cities were burning and wars were raging. There is something magical about a pennant race, a perfect game, the crack of a bat and a ball that travels into the center field seats.
On a visit to Capital Hill during a contentious legislative session, the legendary Negro League player and manager stopped to talk about what it would be like if instead of preaching virulent hatred and division, the television was showing the great catch made by Willie Mays in the 1954 World Series. O’Neil grew up in the Jim Crow era, in segreation, and played his best ball when he was not allowed to play in the Major Leagues, or even enter certain restaurants, movie theaters, hotels, or public rest rooms simply because he was black. But he never became bitter, and he never stopped working for full equality nor continued to work for peace, he told the people watching a television which had the news on: “If Willie Mays was up there, people would stop making laws. They would stop running. They would stop arguing about big things, little things. No Democrat or Republican, no black or white, no North or South. Everybody just stop, watch the TV, watch Willie Mays make that catch. That’s baseball man.”
Me with California Angels Manager Lefty Phillips in 1970
When I watch the All Star Game I am reminded for playing catch with my dad, playing in little league and going to ball games to see my heroes play in those, lush, green, and beautiful diamonds, well except for the Astro Turf ones. We can thank whatever deity convinced baseball executive to go back to grass that most of those are gone. In the movie Field of Dreams, James Earl Jones, playing the reclusive writer Terrence Mann, modeled on J.D. Salinger said to Ray Kinsella, a character played by Kevin Costner, “The one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has been 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 was once good, and what could be again.”
Well last night the American League beat the National League 4-2. Zach Britton, the closer for the Baltimore Orioles who I got to know a bit when he pitched in Norfolk got the save. My favorite teams, the San Francisco Giants and the Orioles lead their divisions going into the second half of the season. It was, despite all the chaos, violence, political division, and uncertainty in the world, a perfect misdsummer night.
Padre Steve +