I almost gave up on baseball.
Baseball was my first exposure to sports. My great-grandmother, Iva, sat me in her lap when I was probably 3 or 4 and started teaching me about baseball. We watched the Dodgers and the Cardinals on a black and white TV screen, and I learned some important things: (1) do not, under any circumstances, cheer for the New York Yankees; (2) nothing is more fun to watch than a successfully stolen base; and (3) you should never “boo” the players, but it’s o.k. to “boo” the umpires. By the time I was in grade school, I would walk to her house after school and catch the last few innings of the televised day game with her, while we drank Coke from real glass bottles and looked at the names of the cities embossed on the bottom to see whose bottle came from the farthest away.
Coming from Oklahoma, the Land of Football, you would think I would be a Sooner-born-and-Sooner-bred football fan, and it is true that when I was a child I thought “Boomer Sooner” was a Thanksgiving song, like “We Gather Together.” But football will never hold my heart like baseball. Baseball is poetry. Bart Giamatti, former Commissioner of Baseball, wrote a beautiful essay once called The Green Fields of the Mind. One of my favorite quotes is part of this essay,
“[Baseball] breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall all alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.”
It’s been a sad few years to be a baseball fan in Kansas City. I will spare one and all my favorite rant about how my hometown team was hi-jacked by a bunch of discount store merchants from Arkansas. Let’s just say, it’s been tough, and I confess I had pretty much given up. Even went shopping for a new team. Didn’t find it. So, this year, I decided to give it one more chance. Word was, the Royals had made a lot of changes, that there might be hope – not Pennant and World Series Hope, but just hope that it wouldn’t be painful and embarrassing to watch. And lo and behold, an actual baseball team took the field. Not perfect, but in baseball perfect is rare. .300 is a very good batting average, and there have only been 23 perfect games pitched in the history of major league baseball, since 1880. No real baseball fan is looking for perfect. We are just looking for baseball, played as well as possible for as long as possible, on sunny afternoons and under lights with the bugs buzzing about. So I welcome the 2013 Kansas City Royals back to the Major Leagues with my whole heart and a blue hat on my head.
I love baseball movies, too. I will never get tired of watching Field of Dreams, and A League of Their Own. I love Bull Durham, even thought I don’t love some of the language, and I even love the totally sappy For the Love of the Game. The end of The Natural gives me chills, and I cry watching The Pride of the Yankees. Last week I saw the best baseball movie ever. If you have not seen 42, go – now. Right now. And take your children, and your grandchildren, and the neighbor children. It is moving and magical, and a great portrayal of two men of faith, Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson, who bravely did what they knew was right and changed not only baseball but America.
And, if you want a great baseball book, Joe Posnaski’s The Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip Through Buck O’Neill’s America will be one of the best books you’ve read in a long time. Buck O’Neill was a national treasure, and the fact that he was shut out of the Hall of Fame is one more illustration of the fact that baseball is not perfect. I’ll save you that rant, too. Joe P’s great stories about Buck’s many years in the Negro Leagues, as the first black coach in the majors, and in an extremely joyfully lived life can’t help but make you smile.
The world, especially lately, is full of hard things. We have to face them, we have to deal with them, and pray about them, and try to make it better. I sincerely believe baseball is one of those gifts God gave us human beings, like trees and flowers, and rivers, and the laughter of children, and puppies, and chocolate, and thunderstorms, and great music, to raise our spirits and give us strength and rest to make us ready for the real work of caring for the world.
I guess I’m back to being a baseball fan!