“In our sun-down perambulations, of late, through the outer parts of Brooklyn, we have observed several parties of youngsters playing “base”, a certain game of ball…Let us go forth awhile, and get better air in our lungs. Let us leave our close rooms…the game of ball is glorious.” -Walt Whitman, 1846
Opening Day!* A sacred national gem. A seasonal expression of the renewal of hope. The eager expectation that “this is the year”. The return of the methodical, intricate, idiosyncratic game that gets in the fibre of man and his communities. Baseball is the great American game. It has been played by Americans for nearly 200 years, and for better or worse has reflected the tension and beauty of this nation. It is something all man may participate in, or spectate upon with equal joy and frustration. The layout of the diamond field, with its perfectly manicured grass, symmetrical and yet unique dimensions, and the exactness of space and choreography, show thus the ingenuity of the American spirit as well as anything we have conceived. This game, speckled with men in traditional, functional uniformity, having gloves of leather, and artfully sculpted lumber, dances gracefully on the edges of individualism and collectivism. Baseball is beautiful.
Baseball is a game of skill and aptitude. Its a thinking man’s game, but carries no restrictions. It is a game of reflection and conversation; one that can be drunk in on the whole, or in passing. It is a relational game, bringing together children with their parents and grandparents. It is a constant with the turning of spring, as none of us have known a year without it. And in those years are wrapped up the legends of the past, and a historical narrative tradition unlike almost any other the world has seen. Baseball is not just a game – it is life. There is no other game that so encapsulates the tenderness, power, frailty and hope of life. For some fan-bases, watching their team (and it is their team as much as any person or group of people, owner or player, because baseball is for all and belongs to all) win a World Series is one of the highlights of a lifetime. And thats not an exaggeration. As Bryant Gumbel once said, “The other sports are just sports. Baseball is a love.”
Baseball is a game of hope and futility. There is hope in the things unseen and goals yet to be accomplished. There is hope in the desperate anticipation of the smallest of moments, pitch to pitch, as well as hope that perhaps this season, or maybe in the next couple, we will be champions. There is hope for the individual as well as for the team. Likewise, there is futility in the small moments, futility in each at bat, each pitch, each game. There is futility in that the greatest players the game has ever seen fail 7 out of 10 times. There is futility in the apparent pointlessness of a 162 game grind that leaves all but one team devoid of the elation of victory. There is a great futile paradox in that the sting of one loss means little, but the sting of a lost season is trapped by the ache of winter, making it inescapable.
In all this hope and futility there is deep joy. There is joy in knowing that failure and success are not the end nor the beginning, but an unending process. There is joy in the life that is shared by, through and during this game, and joy in the abiding understanding that as life comes and goes, for at least six months beginning each spring we are witnesses and beneficiaries of God’s common grace – the single most remarkable game ever conceived by man. And in all that baseball is, there is as profound a joy as can be comprehended through Christ. Amen, and play ball!
“Baseball fosters illusions. Baseball fosters hopes. Baseball inflates us. Baseball lies to us, seductively, and we know we’re being seduced and we don’t complain.” -John Thorn