Culture

Baseball

When I was twelve years old, I pitched a one hit, sixteen strike-out game against my team’s Little League rival in the playoffs. I stole home on a delayed steal without a sign in top of the sixth inning to score the go ahead run. Then I struck out the sides in the bottom half to end it.

I remember what my coach said to me on my way out to the mound for the last inning. I remember what the ump said to me after the game. And I remember every pitch of the last at bat.

I’ve lived a pretty full life. I’ve been off to war. Married, had kids. Lived, loved and laughed. But I’d be lying if I told you I have many better memories than that game.

For a kid, baseball is magical. I don’t have a better word.

Of late, football has gotten more popular. Baseball is slow. It’s methodical. It takes time. You have to do it right. There’s no way around it. The best athletes still have to hit a round ball with a round bat squarely. And a pitcher still has to get batters out. There’s no clock to run out. Nowhere to hide.

It’s the hardest thing to do in all of sports.

It’s a strange game with obscure rules and many non-transferrable skills. But generations of fathers and sons and grandsons and great-grandsons have been playing it the same way. It’s worn its paths. We all groan the same way and say the same things when we see our kids doing the wrong things. When a catcher reaches for a ball in the dirt instead of getting down to block it. Or when a short stop takes a grounder off to the side instead of getting in front of it.

The greats last forever too. Because baseball is the original statistically significant activity. Big league players face thousands of pitches a year. They have ten thousand at bats, all tracked in detail since the 19th century. We can compare players from different eras the way you can’t with any other sport. My ten-year-old reminded me of this when he called out, while inspecting the back of a baseball card, that Nolan Ryan struck out 301 batters in a year when he was 42. He understood how absurd that was.

“Aren’t you 42 Dad?”

Baseball math is a thing. Three hits in a double header is a .375 average. Calculating ERA is runs times innings divided by nine. July equals half of 162. September equals 3/4 of it. I’m not sure how much of the daily math I do in my head for my job was learned from baseball. But it’s probably more than you’d think. Simply keeping score, in the book, takes a graduate level course to figure out.

Before there were endless options of things to watch on endless platforms to watch them on, we could count on there being a baseball game on TV after dinner. Now that there are so many alternatives, I still watch baseball. It’s my default setting. It plays in the background like the sounds of nature. Every night. Six days a week, for six months, we watch the story of a season unfold.

And if you ever go to a game, today’s ballparks are modern wonders worth seeing.

The best teams lose to the worst teams all the time. And on any given night something remarkable can happen. But mostly it’s just familiar faces and familiar voices and something to pay some small part of our attention to.

There’s plenty wrong in the world today that I could, and do, write about. There are modern problems that we have to fix. And plenty of things that just don’t make sense any more. But today baseball is back. And I’m taking my son to the ballpark. And for a few hours things will make sense to me and to him and we’ll be together with a connection we find with few other things for a few hours.

Because for both of us, baseball is magical. And today it’s back.

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