Thursday, September 29, 2011

"That's How Baseball Go"

Thus spoke MLB's reigning sage Ron Washington.

Oftentimes I get asked by friends and family who live and die by football or hockey what I could possibly see in baseball. The classic complaint is aimed at its slow pace. Well, it's precisely because of the slow pace. Elizabeth Scalia of The Anchoress tells us why:
"Baseball is a game of inches. And hours. And in those moments between release and resolution are contained particles of infinity—the space between a prayer of supplication and the surrender of 'Amen'; the whisper of intention that brings what is empty and void into fullness. The hope for redemption.

We can relate to that just as we can identify with pitcher and batter; the individual confronting a full team of resistance with the humblest of weapons—a ball, a stick—speaks to our daily grinds, the resistance, the persistence, the victory of getting through a day; of correcting a flawed stance; of breaking a bad habit before it owns you.

A man screaming 'for the love of God' in the stands of Fenway Park made perfect and sympathetic sense to my son and me, because baseball may be a mere game, but it is one that relates to the continual process of the life of faith—a life of swings and misses, stupid errors, the clutch of despair, the release, the trust, the clockless innings of new chances that stretch out before us, endlessly, and so full of promise.

It breaks your heart, but it leaves you wanting more; it roars into spring, slips us through summer and delivers us, tired but still game, into autumn, and then we lie fallow—waiting in joyful hope."
Check out the full article over at First Things.

A football, hockey, or basketball game might be exciting, but it'll never make me care. Those other sports make for good entertainment, but only baseball is art. Players aren't mindless chess pieces being controlled more or less strategically by a puppeteer coach, but beloved characters in whose fate I have something of myself invested.

Wrigley Field lit by fans' flashlights
Baseball is art because, like art, baseball imitates life and the world around us. Every baseball game is a microcosmic recreation of the universe and the human experience of it. Two teams, home and away, good and evil, locked in battle. Where baseball is special, though, is that that battle is a slow, time-consuming, almost dreary affair. Like life, baseball is won in the details, in the things no one would ever think really mattered. Like life, 7 out of 10 times you step up to the plate, you're gonna fail. Like life, baseball is about prudence, perseverance, and above all fortitude.

This is true outside each individual game too. How many games are in a regular NFL season? 15? Baseball is day-in, day-out. We love baseball because when our players succeed in their microcosmic "life-play," it makes us believe we can succeed in real life, and it gives us the hope to keep trying, so that, one day, we might be counted worthy to say with St. Paul, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith," (2 Tim. 4:7).


  1. Hear, hear! Baseball requires a higher level of thinking to play. I find it interesting that when baseball players are interviewed at the end of the game, they can offer a pretty accurate analysis of what actually happened (in complete sentences nonetheless). Try finding that in other sports. Has anyone ever compared the percentages of criminal-athletes across sporting events? I bet baseball comes out better than the other "big 3." Coincidence......I think not!

  2. Thanks for the comment.

    Good point. I hadn't thought about baseball being mostly immune to "sport speak." I don't have a lot of experience with it, but I imagine hockey doesn't suffer from it quite as much either.

    As you say, this probably has something to do with the ratio of intelligence to sheer athleticism required to play the various games.

  3. I'm a golfer, and a fan of golf (and baseball too). I receive the same queries for what others perceive as plodding, when in fact it is sometimes akin to praying : )

  4. Fantastic point. A lot of times you'll hear the complaint that someone likes playing baseball or some other sport but not watching it. Ridiculous. Any sport is just as easily enjoyed as a spectator as it is as a player. Why? Because the players are us--our champions. They stand in for us, doing what we can't. Like a character in a literary work of art, we can identify with, and even step into the shoes of sports players, winning faux-battles for faux-honor through their ministrations.

    Thanks for commenting!


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