Foul ball: like everything else, Baseball has had to adjust, as best it can, to the dreary realities of 2020.
Ejection from game: the Miami Marlins have already suffered a multiple outbreak of COVID-19 and can only hope that the players affected and others threatened will all be okay. But the precarious opening of the 2020 “season” calls for a reflection on all that is enduring about the game itself.
Players and fans will not be blinking through the humidity in the stadiums. But we will continue revering tradition. Even this shortened, mostly virtual manifestation of the game will turn our hearts a bit upward in the midst of a much-plagued America. Strictly televised Baseball, featuring a cavernous grandstand without fans and hollers, lacking seventh inning stretches and intermittent ball-game hoopla still is worth it. It’s not a home run but at least it’s a single.
Baseball remains the most gently unfolding realization of the American cycle of optimism.
The Covid curse notwithstanding, Baseball remains the most gently unfolding realization of the American cycle of optimism. Even from the currently empty cavities of our ballparks, the game still dispatches last winter’s pattern of blizzards and ice-storms to oblivion and turns us back in favor of rosin bags, the crack of the bats, and the languorous efficiency of the bullpens. And the numbers and stats. The calculus of Baseball sustains a nourishing need for structure—especially in these discordant times.
Meanwhile, the game has evolved from the long-running curve-ball of former sports apartheid. From Los Angeles to Toronto, from Atlanta to Seattle, the sport is dotted with remarkable Japanese talent, powered by heavy-shouldered Latin sluggers, yet, alas, suffers from a dearth of African American players. But the glistening outfield is still a verdant pasture of renewal.
Bart Giamatti, the Yale president who became the short-lived commissioner of baseball in 1989 (as well as its laureate) spoke and wrote lyrically of the game’s enduring magic and bucolic hold on the American imagination. Unlike other kinds of playing fields, he saw a ballpark as “an enclosed, green place” that can draw us to “the condition of paradise.”
Us older fans, particularly immigrants to Southern California, remember true green spaces with names like Crosley, Forbes, and Candlestick. We suffered through synthetic turf facades (with migraine-inducing color uniforms) that have since been replaced by “retro” true meadows once again inhabiting the urban center, almost in contrition and surely without the hastily erased gridiron lines of football. We now smile to ourselves. We know that the game of Baseball, coming around in solar relief again, is bigger than the sum of its players, no matter who’s on the field or who is suspended.
Baseball is a national thread of reminiscence that links our generations and it will endure, even if some of the players in question do not. I love the game because, no matter how it changes, it remains the same. It persists, in each glorious still moment, a breeze-kissed frame of time between the winding-up ceremonials of one pitcher staring into the chamber of a catcher’s beaten mitt while a jaw-clenched batter waits in both tribute and hunger.
Baseball turns us all into storytellers. Mothers and fathers share the chronicles of a solar game not stopped by a clock or a penalty. They tell their kids about a game whose coordinates are measured not in yards but in yarns. They measure generations by an enterprise so knowing that a man’s constant goal is to simply come home –or offer himself as a sacrifice.
I don’t remember all the details about my daughters’ academic graduations, though I surely cherish those milestones. But I do vividly recall driving them through the woods of New York State, far off the Thruway and thick into “Hawkeye country” and onto Cooperstown. The Baseball Hall of Fame drew us, like a magnet of legends, numbers, and summer anecdotes. Oral histories were being woven and rewoven by brothers and sisters, by mothers and grandfathers. Cheerful guides in shiny red blazers directed us to famous baseballs and eternal plaques. If only my own immigrant Dad could have been there, I thought to myself. How dashing he’d be in one of those sport coats, his pulse maintained by runs, bases, hits, and “where they stand.”
In whatever fashion, the game itself still fills our summers—particularly this dreary and fearsome one. Baseball is in the blood. Baseball is memory.