Tomorrow I’m heading to Phoenix to indulge my new favorite springtime ritual, spring training. I did it last year with my son Chase, to great effect, so am doing it again with sons Chase and Silas. If two of us could boost the A’s into first place in the AL East last year, what will happen with the power of three?
But it raises in my mind a perennial question: what is this about? Why does baseball mean so much to me?
Partly, it’s just sports, any sports–equally mysterious. But I do have a special feeling for baseball, so I’ll focus on that.
Baseball is a daily ritual. For six months of the year, six days a week, I follow it as a kind of second life. It’s something like reading a really engrossing novel, with characters you come to know and care about, with the future unknown. The dailyness is important.
It’s a spacious, outdoor sport, its visuals dominated by grass, merely dotted with players. Timewise it’s spacious too, with pauses between pitches, with 17 between-innings, each offering almost enough time to get something to eat. You can talk at a baseball game. You can let your eyes wander.
Baseball is human sized. Its players look normal. You can almost imagine yourself doing what they do.
Baseball is linear, which lends itself to storytelling and recapitulation. Most sports, a dozen people are moving at once; or the action is essentially repetitive (think tennis). It’s hard to tell the story of such games, at least in any detail. But I can recap the story of a baseball game pitch by pitch, inning by inning, with the rise and fall of drama as runners reach and score and the action see-saws. The linear nature of baseball also explains why it’s the most statistical of sports: it can be broken down to individual pieces in a way that basketball or football never can. As a result it can be savored, turned over, historicized.
Probably most of all, though, baseball (like all the other sports) connects the generations. My dad loved baseball and took me to my first games (in Yankee Stadium). I coached both my sons in Little League, which I believe they cared about nearly as much as I did. Baseball reminds me of days playing catch and hitting fly balls. It’s timeless, just the same now as it was when I was a child. So when I watch a baseball game, I haven’t aged at all.