“The only real game in the world, I think, is baseball.” Babe Ruth

November 5, 2012

Can only 10 days have passed since the last out of the 2012 World Series?  Already I feel an emptiness inside caused by the lack of anticipation for the day’s slate of games.  This is how I know that I am a baseball fanatic (“a person with extreme and uncritical enthusiasm or zeal” – dictionary.com):  when I pine away for even a meaningless afternoon baseball game (Cubs v. Astros?), when meaningful other events are available to occupy my time and to which attention should be paid.

It is, after all, a quadrennial election year, and the past 10 days may prove to have been an important time in American political history.  Also, there are people hurting in the Northeast following Hurricane Sandy and  there are people in need every day here in my own city of San Antonio.  There are many chores to be done around the house and about a dozen good books sitting on my desk in my study that I know I should read (and I am 30 days behind on my daily Bible study thanks to the MLB post-season). My kids need help with their homework (if I could only remember how to solve Calculus problems or recall the primary cause of the War of 1812).  Other sports are either in full swing (NFL and college football) or fresh from season openers (NBA),  but yet my first and foremost, virtually exclusive, inclination is to want MORE BASEBALL.  So here I am, sitting around thinking about baseball, even to the point of writing about thinking about baseball.

What rational reason can there be that I (and we) love baseball so much?  One possibility, I’m sure, is that we long for the success of our favorite team or player, which will in some equally irrational and inexplicable way gratify and validate us personally. But that feeling is available from any sporting contest, whether it is a team or individual sport.  We all have our favorites and some are based on geography while others are inherited from our parents or even adopted as an act of rebellion against them.  So loyalty and disloyalty alone do not explain why over 70,000,000 tickets are sold each year to MLB games.  Indeed, the second highest attendance for any professional sport in 2011 was also baseball, the Japanese major league which drew over 21 million fans.  By contrast, the NFL and NBA barely topped 17 million each, behind even the NHL! (As Casey Stengel would say, “you could look it up!”)

No, something else is at play in our feelings about baseball, something that could justify Babe Ruth’s belief that it is “the only real game in the world.”  Careful B.A.B.E.S. readers may recall that I struggled to articulate my own love of the game in a remembrance of Rocky Walker posted during Spring Training.  But since there probably aren’t any careful B.A.B.E.S. readers, I will repeat part of what I wrote back in March:

Baseball players have been immortalized as the “Boys of Summer” ever since 1972 when Roger Kahn took the phrase from a Dylan Thomas poem and used it as the title of a book about his beloved Brooklyn Dodgers.  Indeed, the thought of the Boys of Summer playing America’s Pastime arouses in us all memories of lazy summer days and nights at the ballpark where time seemed to stand still to the most wonderful effect.

Yet, for me baseball is much more evocative of Spring, a time when bright colors return to the Earth and we all long to be outdoors to experience the same rebirth. Isn’t that what happens each Spring in FL and AZ when the MLB teams clothed in Spring colors all play baseball outdoors on natural grass? Doesn’t each player contract Spring-fever amnesia and believe that his team can win the World Series this year no matter how badly they performed the previous year – or the previous 104 years? That optimism (“an inclination to put the most favorable construction upon actions and events to anticipate the best possible outcome” – Webster’s 9th), translates from the span of an entire season down to each individual pitch. In a baseball instant, the 1.4 seconds it takes most big-league pitchers to deliver a pitch to the plate, a player’s life can change forever. (See David Freese as the most recent example). A true baseball fan always believes that such a life-changing instant can occur on any pitch, and probably will on the very next one. With the coming of Spring, we all anticipate that catharsis in a positive expectation of success and victory, not in negative fear of failure or defeat.” 

(entire post can be reviewed in the March, 2012, archives….)

Now that another season has passed, I can update these thoughts to substitute Pablo Sandoval for David Freese and refer to the 4.2 seconds constituting the aggregate pitch delivery time for his 3 home runs in World Series Game 1.  I can point to the Giants as a case of successful amnesia, or selective memory, having forgotten the failures of 2011 and repeated the triumph of 2010 (which not one of us predicted, by the way). I can also add one more year to the eternally optimistic Cubs’ fans’ wait till next year – now 105 years and still counting. And speaking of the Cubs, I can use them as an example of how just one baseball pitch can even change the life of a fan forever (more about that in a future post).

But do these thoughts really distinguish baseball from other sports?  Aren’t there epic moments of success or failure in every sport, even those that have occurred in an instant?  And don’t other sports’ seasons span the earth’s seasons, too? (Baseball may start in Spring and end in Fall, but football starts in Summer and ends in Winter, which strikes me as stronger distinction.) Of course, there is the repetition of the baseball season, where during its six-month run a baseball team may have fewer than 3 days/month without a game.  In that way, baseball is unique, but isn’t that the very fact cited as turning fans away rather than drawing them into a deeper appreciation of the sport? (I know that is true for my wife.)

So, I am still searching for the uniqueness of baseball and the precise reason why I love it so much.  If he were still with us, I’d ask the Babe to explain his views, which also included this apparently subsequent thought to the one quoted above: “Baseball was, is and always will be to me the best game in the world.”  Perhaps he realized that it couldn’t objectively be called the “only real game in the world,” but could subjectively be called the “best” – especially by one of the best players in its history.

Do you get this picture, no matter how poorly I have captured it? If so, is it perhaps a view more like a mirror in which you see not the Babe or me, but yourself?  If so, I welcome your effort to try to describe that reflection.  Exactly why is baseball the “best game in the world” to you?

The comments section is wide open, and Spring Training doesn’t start for another 100 days.  Do you really want to leave that much time for me to ponder this alone?

(JSR) © 2012

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