Baseball is a wonderful game that means many things to many people. And while that meaning may vary, the game can be a service—a blessing, even—to us all.
For some people, baseball is simply an athletic competition, an opportunity to exercise their muscles while competing to determine who will emerge as the victor in the confrontation on the field. Those who excel above nearly all others at this aspect of the game will be richly rewarded. Fans will pay money to watch them and cheer their names, and the players will never have to work again once their playing days are over.
For others—including many who frequent this web site—the game can be viewed as an orchestration of maneuvers, a chess match to be broken down, analyzed, and optimized in an effort to fully understand the detailed intricacies of match-ups and strategies. The best of those may have the opportunity to work for major league teams, using their skills to contribute to the game in a unique manner.
For the rest of us, baseball is a game to be played, studied, and watched with a more casual attitude.
We know we’ll never have the athletic skills to be a pro ballplayer. We may play at a lesser level, be it in a semi-pro league, on our company or church softball team, or possibly on a vintage base ball squad that replicates the game during its infancy. We play a game, drink a beer, and go back to our lives. It’s a fine, fun way to participate in the sport.
We may be aware that we don’t have—and aren’t going to develop—the analytical skills or educational credentials to work in a front office. However, we can simulate this experience by running our fantasy baseball teams or playing computer simulations. Some may simply peruse Retrosheet pages or old videos, reliving past contests we particularly enjoyed and the strategies employed therein.
Regardless of how we enjoy the game of baseball, it’s heartening to know that it is there for us so very often. From early April to the end of October, there are major league games being played virtually every day. (A pox upon the day or two after the All-Star Game when the fields are barren, though even then, the minor leagues can satisfy our fix.)
Early in the year, while snow still falls and wind whips across much of our nation, major league teams are enjoying the warm sun in Florida and Arizona. We can follow spring training position battles, the recovery of important players from offseason surgery, the development of top prospects, and so much more.
Even when there are no games being played, we have the Hot Stove League, which these days seems never to cool. Free agent signings, trades, winter league performances—with rare exception, there is professional baseball to be followed all year long.
Some silly fools call baseball’s season too long, the day-to-day grind too much to keep up with. We’ll leave them to enjoy their once-a-week football contests, three hours of pent-up fury unleashed on the gridiron. Or their sporadic basketball and hockey schedules, about as comprehensible as string theory.
Me, I’ll take baseball, its metronome-like consistency a comforting, reliable presence, sometimes at the forefront of our attention, other times as an aside while we’re working on the car, fishing, or playing catch with our children.
And as nice as it is to have baseball during the mundane times of our existence, it can be even more important during the tough stretches. Of course, there’s the clichéd situation of a father and son having nothing but baseball to talk about during the latter’s coming of age, which is a cliché only because it’s so often true.
But it’s during the even more challenging times, such as the loss of a loved one (the catalyst that lead me to write this column), when personal experience proves that our national pastime can be a familial balm, soothing our troubles ever so slightly during such a difficult period.
No, the game doesn’t make the pain go away, but it provides a distraction, a focus other than our difficulties when they prove too much to bear. The feeling may be fleeting, but watching a pitcher-batter confrontation or listening to a friendly, familiar voice describe a deep, arching home run can provide a brief escape, which may be just what we need to get by at that moment.
For many of us, life without baseball is nearly unimaginable, its existence so interwoven with our own, from our first game as a child to the moment we finally realized it was time to hang up our cleats for good, and during the times in between and beyond.
As in life, there is give and take, victory and loss, wonder and disappointment. In some small way, baseball is a reflection of our existence. However, there is comfort in knowing that whatever other changes we encounter, the game is sure to go on. And in that, we hope, we can find a glimmer of reassurance.