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Baseball and the Perfect Moment

June 6, 2008

[Nancy actually posted this in the comments section to the post “Is Baseball Relevant” but the commentary was too good to not be read by those receiving Hoosierati via RSS feed, so I elevated it to post status–Jim]

This is a thoughtful post and covers multiple aspects of the current and past state of baseball. Personally, though, I don’t look at it that way. There is baseball as a sport, as a business, as a reflection of American trends, as an entertainment. Then there is baseball as a Platonic idea. To get to that point, however, you really have to turn to minor league baseball.

No one wrote about this brand of baseball better than Roger Kahn in Good Enough to Dream. Kahn owned the Class A Utica Blue Sox for one season, and his book is about the struggle that he, and his players, went through purely out of a passion for the game contrary to all reason.

Or consider the greatest baseball movie ever made–Bull Durham. It is also the only sports movie in which the ending is not about the team winning or losing the Big Game. That’s because there is no way to win. Summers always end. Players always come to a point when they have to retire. Even though baseball is also the sport that has no clock, thus coming the closest to suspending time, it is still not possible for an inning to go on forever.

But you live in the perfect moment, and you go to the ballpark because there is always the possibility of seeing something truly extraordinary. Even when my team is losing, when my team is terrible, when steroids wouldn’t help anyway, I still might see something I’ve never seen before. A freak triple play. An arcane rule invoked. I once saw Kevin Gross throw a NO-HITTER in Dodger Stadium. I noticed he had a no-hitter going into the 7th inning, but I didn’t tell anyone. I just held my breath and waited until the announcer finally realized what was happening sometime in the 8th. I don’t know whether the Dodgers had a winning season or not that year, and I don’t care. It was still wonderful.

So there is no doubt in my mind that baseball is also a religious experience, an archetypal ritual. The real competition is against mortality, the levelest of playing fields. A lot of writers have pointed out this dimension of baseball, but there’s a good way to learn it for yourself. That, of course, is by rooting for the Chicago Cubs. Will they get into the World Series in my lifetime? Suffice it to say that they haven’t done it yet.

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3 comments

  1. I think this is a wonderful view of baseball. As much as baseball is a sport, and thus has the standard winner-take-all mentality of any sport with a championship (or, really, with competition at all), it seems so much more about the experience of playing than about the ultimate wins or losses you go through along the way.

    Baseball has also always seemed like the most team-oriented sport of any of the major sports out there. Football has its quarterbacks. Basketball has its Michael Jordans. But with baseball, the more one player elevates himself above the team, the more the team seems to suffer for it (look at A-Rod). Baseball has a culture that revolves around the team, and no team can survive if they have only one great player (look at the Ms — okay, better yet, don’t). I lost my interest in the Mariners when the team that had played its heart out for each other and the fans got sold away piecemeal to other teams. Players who’d been part of our local community for years and years were just tossed away for reasons that baffled everybody. Bret Boone broke down in his television interview. That kind of loss felt like such a betrayal.

    I wonder if the loss of baseball as the most popular sport in America has anything to do with the growing cultural shift that tends to privilege a single person above teamwork and team players. The ’40s had the monoculture of World War II, the ’60s had Civil Rights and the many “join together” fights of that era, but have we had any kind of unifying events in the generations since? It seems like any modern culture-shaking events have become excuses to yell at each other over the “right” way to handle things than any kind of reason to work toward common goals.

    I’d boggle over the heavy thoughts inspired by baseball, but I’ve seen Bull Durham, too. ^_^


  2. Very cool… this one is the game I’ll never forget.
    Sitting in the nosebleed seats full of hope with my little glove stretched out.


  3. Great piece! You got my growing-up-in-baseball juices flowing. Some time ago I wrote a baseball piece at Ask A Hoosier.com (http://askahoosier.wordpress.com/2010/09/05/the-imperfect-perfect-game/) entitled “The Imperfect Perfect Game”, which, like yours, also included a poignant no-hitter story. By the way, I am fascinated by the idea Kevin Kostner has made what?…four baseball movies?! You took my thoughts straight to the phenomenon of minor league baseball on Cape Cod, too. where I seem to have read that Tommy John once coached. Thanks so much for taking there and back.



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