Sunday April 03, 2016

Why we need baseball in these trying times - Michael's essay

People's love of baseball goes back a long ways, as seen in this drawing from 1866.

People's love of baseball goes back a long ways, as seen in this drawing from 1866. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Listen 4:02

The first baseman was wearing short pants, his skinny legs bone white in the early spring chill. The second baseman was taking no chances. He wore a toque and a windbreaker; the guy at third, jeans and a heavy sweater. The batter looked loose and limber and stood in tight to the plate. They were all about 12 years old, playing work-up in the fading afternoon light, snapping throws, shagging flies, working their dormant baseball chops as they waited for the season. I watched them for about 10 minutes; no longer. 

Boys playing baseball

(Wikimedia Commons)

These troubled days, it's dangerous for an old guy in a trench coat to spend too much time staring at school kids in a playground. They had brought their mitts and a bat to school hoping they might get in a little practice even if it was close to freezing. These are true fans. They are not even teenagers yet and they have found their game. I would wager heavily that their fathers, perhaps even their grandfathers, play catch with them. I still do with my sons, now all grown up.

This afternoon the 2016 baseball season begins in Pittsburgh when the Cardinals of St. Louis take on the Pirates of Pittsburgh. The 30 teams in two leagues will each play 162 games until the regular season ends on Sunday, October 2nd. This season marks the 40th for the Toronto Blue Jays, it's 39th being one of the most memorable in the club's history. Who will ever forget the glorious bat toss by Jose Bautista?

bautista-jose

OCTOBER 14: Jose Bautista flips his bat high in the air after hitting a three-run home run to put the Blue Jays up 6-3 in the deciding game of their American League playoff series against the Rangers in Toronto. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

Early spring when the teams head north, is the time when diehard and even occasional fans begin thinking about the coming summer. It is also the time when baseball writers, novelists, poets, and winter-wearied political reporters begin to craft eloquent prose about spring, renewal and baseball as a metaphor for life. Some of it is good, some is pure cheese, little of it memorable. Which will bring out the baseball haters who say the game is slow, dull, boring. To which I say - hooray! Every once in awhile we could do with a little slow, dull, boring.

Terror attacks, weather from hell, bubble gum movies, suicide bombers, a stalled economy, hyperactive media, Donald Trump, Rob Ford, voicemail, world tensions - things we trust, generally falling apart. Boring old baseball represents relief, a retreat from a world too much with us. A baseball game can shift our attention and freeze it for a moment in a way no other sport can. It can, as the late commissioner Bart Giamatti wrote, slow down time even capture it. "Keep hitting," he said, "keep the rally going and you have defeated time."

Yes, I know all about how big money and drugs have despoiled the essence of the game. I know it is a business like any other where owners want to make healthy profits. I realize all that. But when you see ten and twelve-year old boys and girls playing a ball and bat game that hasn't changed much in a hundred and fifty years, old loyalties get dusted off, old rivalries take on new life.

We may be in the bleachers watching grownups play a child's game, but in our heads we are all back in the playground in the spring of our lives. 

Click 'listen' above to hear Michael's essay.