Yeah…there is a war in Afghanistan, the unemployment rate is too high, there are revolutions throughout the Middle East, Wyoming’s legislature forfeited our right to be called the Equality State and winter won’t leave. But, this weekend is the first spring training game for the Rockies and the baseball season in underway!
Baseball is just more interesting than all of our problems and infinitely more hopeful. The war has seen 10 baseball seasons come and go. That young men and women are killing and dying in Afghanistan is more important than men playing a kid’s game and yet baseball is more than a simple distraction from the problems of the world. In many ways it is what keeps those problems from overwhelming us.
George Will once acknowledged baseball is only a game, and, he added, “Likewise, the Grand Canyon is only a hole in the Arizona ground.” The last out of the last game of the World Series is the first moment of winter, cold, dark season lasting until the first pitch of spring training. Bart Giamatti was a poet who also happened to serve both as President of Yale and baseball commissioner. Giamatti once wrote, “The game begins in spring, when everything else begins again.”
By our very nature we Wyoming dwellers are people of spring. When you grow up in Wyoming it’s not the tulips’ bloom that tells you it’s spring time. By the time a flower blooms here it’s the middle of the summer. I can look out the window and see snow falling and wind blowing but simply knowing pitchers and catchers have reported to their spring training site tells me it is spring.
The hopefulness accompanying each season makes baseball different from the other realities of our lives. The legislature may pass laws creating different classes of citizens but 90 mile an hour fastballs don’t discriminate. The rest of our world may be too often defined by its injustices but as one of baseball’s great promoters, Bill Veeck, observed, “Baseball is the only orderly thing in a very un-orderly world. If you get three strikes, even the best lawyer in the world can't get you off.”
I inherited little more than a love of baseball from my father, but what a treasure chest! We lived on 18th Street in Cheyenne in the 1950’s. There was a vacant lot next door. It was our field of dreams. The neighborhood dads and moms, girls and boys and dogs gathered there every afternoon as the men (it was the 50’s after all) got off work. We played ball until it was so dark the hitter could no longer see the pitcher. In that vacant lot we learned a lot about family values, sportsmanship and our responsibility to others.
I don’t think I’d go so far as to consider baseball a religion, but I don’t disagree with Ron Shelton who was a major league player before directing the movie Bull Durham. “I believe in the Church of Baseball. I tried all the major religions and most of the minor ones. I've worshipped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms and Isadora Duncan. I know things. For instance, there are 108 beads in a Catholic rosary and there are 108 stitches in a baseball. When I learned that, I gave Jesus a chance.”