Sports and the Lack Thereof

So it’s early May. In normal years, we would be 20 plus games into the baseball season. Yes I hear you, ‘Oh no, a sports related blog!’ But fear not friends, I will try not to bore you, however you are welcome to bail out at this point. Hmm, to bail out, a baseball term; The act of  hurling your body backwards to avoid a pitch up and in. A very reptilian brain response to the imminent danger of a fastball thrown with either purpose or neglect, Bob Gibson or Sudden Sam Mcdowell.  

My life, since I was 8 or 9, has revolved around the rhythms of sports, first baseball, then football, followed by basketball. With a smattering of boxing, olympics and for a brief period in the early seventies, hockey. But the through line is baseball. My older brother Tim and I have a shorthand connection to many pieces of life, comedy,  music and movies–but especially baseball. We have said for many years our dream retirement would be to end up in the same sparsely appointed  retirement community, playing dice baseball games. 

Rabbit Trail: It was Tim who introduced me to Extra Innings, a complicated three diced board game. In the late 70’s I decided to replay the entire 1970 American League season. Tony Oliva! Carl Yastrzemski! Boog Powell, Frank Howard! Jim Palmer! At 20 minutes a game, including a couple of years where I played no games, I finished in 10 years. 

Feel free to judge at this point. 

Tim is also a fantastic artist ( Yes I’m biased, it is my right and privilege.) He has for many years painted baseball scenes.  This below is Willie Mays.

Baseball season is the longest sports season…long stretches where it seems nothing is happening. The first week of August for instance. It is a complicated game to explain – there are the actual rules and then there are the unwritten rules, expected behavior, decorum. There have been many anguished words written about the demise of baseball in the public consciousness. It is the slow pace, the lack of immediate action. Action, say like football…

*Enter Football Rabbit Trail*… well hang on there Bucky, did you know there is actually a total of 11 minutes of action in a football game? Television has been brilliant in it’s presentation of football. Just after that completed pass to the wide receiver for 3 yards on a hard cut to the outside (stunning in its excitement), the producer (the actual star of the game) has a myriad of replays available to keep your mind tricked into thinking there is constant action, a barrage of quick cuts, breathless commentary and then we are back to the anticipation of impending mayhem…the QB’s hands poised under the center’s nether regions in a position that makes us all a little uncomfortable or, I suppose, intrigued. 

**Rabbit Trail About the Rabbit Trail** This was not intended to be a rant against football, but we have just come through the NFL draft, three days of breathless pompous commentary about…nothing. Nothing happens. You could just post the results online afterwards. It’s the biggest con since the last presidential election. 

(Done with enormous rabbit trailing…)

Sports are part of what we are missing right now. Yes I know there are important shifts happening in culture and society, hopefully to a more caring and compassionate reality. 

But I miss the metronome of baseball.

Baseball is a grind, not every game is exciting and certainly doesn’t have the weekly buildup of a single football game. Baseball has 162 games in the schedule. Basketball 82,  hockey 82, football 16.  But baseball is always there for 6 months. Teams don’t play every day, although almost every day there is some team playing in Seattle, Atlanta, Arlington or Philadelphia. It’s a long term companion as opposed to a one night stand. It’s an album instead of a song. Hamilton instead of a 3 minute sketch. Match.com vs tinder. 

George Carlin’s classic bit is still worth the watch on the difference between football and baseball terms. 

Joe Posnanski is a brilliant, lovely writer. Period. He just so happens to write about baseball. 

As I wrote that night, there is nothing in baseball as jarring as a blindside hit, nothing as jaw-dropping as a perfect alley-oop, nothing as tense and heart-pounding as a hockey breakaway. Baseball has little violence. Heck, baseball has almost no contact other than the high-fives the home run hitter receives when he reaches the dugout. There are never more than a few seconds of continuous action, and even that kind of bustle is pretty rare. Baseball has the drumbeat of daily life.

The hard part for a baseball fan to explain to a non-fan (the impossible part, really) is that we don’t love baseball in spite of those features but because of them. We find beauty and tension and joy in the small spaces. And every rally that ends with a routine grounder to second, every ninth-inning comeback that never begins, every warning-track fly ball that collapses fans back into their seats, every late-inning pitching change with the game already out of hand, every check swing appealed into a strike, every C-move pickoff throw to first in which the runner simply takes one step back to the bag, each of them takes us one step closer to something extraordinary.

Every now and again, something extraordinary does happen.

That’s why I don’t argue with people who say baseball is boring. Baseball is boring. And then it isn’t. And that’s the magic.”

For many of us, this is one of the myriad of losses…baseball.  It is another unmooring of our bearings; bearings by which we mark time, engage in healthy distraction from work or isolation and give us something new every day to watch, talk about and evaluate the inexorable march of statistics–measurable accounts of success and failure.

Good lord, I miss baseball. I wonder how Sudden Sam is doing and did you know he struck out 325 batters at age 22? And, I suspect, in at least 185 instances in those strikeouts, he came “up and in”.

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