Baseball season began this week, and I look forward to that. I enjoy baseball, and I like the game for a lot of reasons. Many of these are rooted in my younger days. I played baseball as a kid. I played Little League ball for a number of years, though I was never that great. In our neighborhood, we often put together pick-up games in open fields. I listened to baseball games on an old transistor radio. Baseball is a great radio game. I remember one year bringing that radio to school one year on opening day to try and listen to the game if I had the chance. I collected baseball cards. I can still smell that hard pink gum that came with every ten cards. I can still feel some of the joy those simple cardboard pictures brought to me. I played games with those cards, creating an entire world in some ways.
I admit that I went through a few years when my interest in baseball waned. I was more interested in music on the radio, and thinking deep thoughts. The cardboard cards became just cardboard. I was trying to figure out some things about life. I was exploring literature, psychology, philosophy, and theology. I was reading things like, “Does time itself manifest itself as the horizon of Being?” (Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, final line).
I have made my way back to baseball, without leaving these others behind. Baseball writing is not without its own profundities. I can’t really imagine where a comparison between Martin Heidegger and Roger Angell would be helpful, but Angell can also write profoundly about time, with reference to baseball. Baseball’s time is seamless and invisible, a bubble within which players move at exactly the same pace and rhythms as all their predecessors. This is the way the game was played in our youth and in our fathers’ youth, and even back then – back in the country days – there must have been the same feeling that time could be stopped. (“The Interior Stadium”)
In fact, one of the reasons I really enjoy baseball is that besides all the simple pleasures of the game itself, so much writing about the game is quite exceptional.
No other sport, I think, conveys anything like this sense of cool depth and fluvial steadiness, and when you stop for a minute and think about the game it is easy to see why this should be so. The slow, inexorable progression of baseball events – balls and strikes, outs and innings, batters stepping up and batters being retired, pitchers and sides changing on the field, innings turning into games and games into series, and all these merging and continuing, in turn, in the box scores and the averages and the slowly fluctuous standings – are what make the game quietly and uniquely satisfying. Baseball flows past us all through the summer – it is one of the reasons that summer exists – and wherever we happen to stand on its green banks we can sense with only a glance across its shiny expanse that the long, unhurrying swirl and down-flowing have their own purpose and direction, that the river is headed, in its own sweet time, toward a downsummer broadaneing and debouchment and to its end in the estuary of October. (Roger Angell in Late Innings)
It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops…. Of course, there are those who learn after the first few times. They grow out of sports. And there are others who were born with the wisdom to know that nothing lasts. These are the truly tough among us, the ones who can live without illusion, or without even the hope of illusion. I am not that grown-up or up-to-date. I am a simpler creature, tied to more primitive patterns and cycles. I need to think something lasts forever, and it might as well be that state of being that is a game; it might as well be that, in a green field, in the sun. (A. Bartlett Giamatti, “The Green Fields of the Mind”)
How can I resist a game that people write so movingly about? Play ball.
With Faith and With Feathers,