Today is Opening Day for baseball in New York City and I love this time of year. We enjoyed six weeks of Spring Training and now the season proper opens today — we hope, if it doesn’t rain all day! — and the time for renewal and freshness is now.
I wasn’t always a big baseball fan. Being born in Nebraska means you’re bred Big Red for football only. The closest professional baseball team while growing up was the George Brett-era Kansas City Royals — and they were always soundly thwarted by the evil New York Yankees From The East.
Now that I’ve lived in the New York City area longer than I lived in the flatlands; I take great pride that I have been a New York Yankees fan longer than I was a Huskers fan.
The great thing about baseball is that it teaches you how to manage morality and an expectation of time. We codify our lives learned in the memes of baseball. The American work ethic is embedded in the game. You work toward a goal — getting the ball away from the other team — and there’s no time limit on getting the work done. You toil and sweat until you earn three outs and then you grab a bat and try to whack that white ball away from the other side to score some runs.
Baseball also measures the calendar. You have Spring ball and then the regular season and then the All-Star break and then the playoffs and the World Series. Then you have the dark days of Winter when you only have basketball to bide your eye — with it’s timed shots and metered quarters and three-point silliness — and you long to come out of your three-month depression to get the Boys of Summer back in your afternoons.
Baseball is about the nuances of human integrity. There is an intrinsic morality in running your fastest and throwing true and using technique, and not always muscle, to pull a ball the other way for a home run to win the game. There is human proof of life even in a botched call.
Watching baseball on television is another grand respite from the sweltering day. You have time to ponder and listen to discussions about gameplay and strategy. There is an ease of purpose to the game that is easily won and hard to forget.
My fear is that baseball will be compressed and replaced by an ever-impatient social fabric that demands instant gratification and a predictable outcome in the time invested in the event. Baseballs calms the will and encourages the faithful — but those human totems don’t seem to be of much interest to the younger generation today. Baseball, in the Age of Twitter and Facebook is a throwback to the duty of old school values and the dull way of doing things where quality mattered and working until the job was done was more precious than creating mounds of chatter that create zero value in a world that is quickly spinning out of the control of lesser expectations.
Baseball grounds us in a reality that is fluid and expansive, but to see the beauty in the game, you have to disconnect — tune out the visual aberrations vibrating for your attention in your smartphone — and concentrate on strategy and planning for the inevitable breakdown of your game plan. The afternoon is won in how you react to changes and how you deal with conquering the unexpected. That sort of logical thinking and problem solving is the key to measuring morality and quantifying context in the greatest game on earth — and we need so much more of that discipline in our compromised, and really only virtually real, lives.
Baseball is an excellent and relaxing game. I look forward to seeing a game or two this season.
I need to go to more games in person. I love working at home to the sounds of baseball, though. I get so many more things done while watching a game than when I’m not watching.
Baseball is one thing as an abstraction, another as it is practiced. The abstraction is of an idealized past; the reality is dominated by money, the desire to win and glory.
It is hard to see the ethics in this.
I was clearly writing about the essence of baseball, not the economics of the game.