Does Baseball Still Matter?

This article was originally published in The Daily Pulp on April 10, 2013.

As baseball season commences across the nation from the home run fishermen in San Francisco Bay to the Green Monster in Boston, so too does the annual romanticism behind America’s favorite pastime.

I myself am excited by the notion that I might run into Bill Murray while sipping on a beershake at my local Charleston Riverdogs game, but celebrity cameos and alcoholic desserts aside, a lingering question remains in the minds of sports fans nationwide: does baseball still matter?

Baseball, you may say, is at best — tired. But tired does not mean worn out or asleep or let’s just get down to it: dead. Baseball is a lot of things, but baseball is not dead. Allow me to explain by taking you to the movies.

In Bull Durham, the 1988 film that glorified the Carolina League, the manager of the Durham Bulls does not know how to inspire his losing ballclub. Crash Davis, the aging and wise catcher, simply tells him, “They’re kids. Scare ‘em.” And so the manager does just that, steamrolling into the showers and kicking over a rack of bats. He patronizes his team as he explains that baseball is a simple game: you throw the ball, you hit the ball, and you catch the ball. Of course, that iswhat happens on a baseball field, but I know — and maybe you do too — that there is more to it than that.

You already know the story of father and son eating hot dogs in the stands, but that is only one element, one point of view, of the game of baseball. I’m not going to spend too much time here, because that’s how engrained it is, and I’d like to think that means that there’s truth to it. I’d like to think every boy in America had a dad who played catch with him, although I know many didn’t. I also know that experiences like the ones I had with my father cannot come too late. So whether you had the game passed down to you or if you are a recent advocate for an inner-city baseball initiative, then you get it. It is a gift, isn’t it?

But now for something a little less colorful — in fact, it is in black in white. It is the stat sheet. There are numbers to crunch, predictions that can be silently made behind the singing of the National Anthem and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” It is algorithms and economics. It is business. It is the reason why Moneyball was a New York Times bestseller and went on to star Brad Pitt in the box office. Of course, a bestselling book and a movie are culturally “sexy,” while the front-end work of statistical rigor may not be. But it is hard work, and where there is hard work, there is money to be made.

Then there is the game within the game, the true art that only a ballplayer can tell you about. They may not have the diction to express the feel of the game in the same way Emerson or Thoreau would, but that’s why baseball has its own language, and language affects ethos. There are things you do or do not do because baseball has rules — four balls and you take your base, three strikes and you’re out — but there are also the unspoken rules of baseball — chin music, running out of your shoes to first base on a groundball, and which way your spikes face when you slide into second base. It is a game that teaches you about the game outside the walls or gates or chain-link fence or the pairs of old shoes you used to make bases in the dirt of your neighborhood — which I personally have not seen, but have no need to in order to know the significance of that place.

And that is because baseball is more than just throwing, hitting and catching. Baseball is not dead. In baseball there is magic, there is money, and there are memories. If we as sports fans — as a society — can ensure that continues, then we will see that baseball is still very much alive.

Maybe you’re a baseball fan, and maybe you’re not. It is boring to watch at home on television, people argue, or there’s not enough action to keep someone engaged even if you’re there in the stands. That’s baseball, though. And like watching a familiar movie, the best conversations and memories we have with one another happen while the action plays out in the background.

If we turn the movie off — if we disregard it completely — I wonder how much we would miss out on? At a baseball game, you’re not meant to remember the score; after all, it is a long season. But I bet you remember something from a baseball game that you can’t quite explain, because honestly, you don’t have to. We’ve been there — whether it was in the stands, or the front office, or the field.

And we know.

Cover photo archived from the original web layout: 


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