Friday, April 8, 2005

Open. Open. Open....

I was thinking recently that I used to really enjoy logging some couch time when I got the chance. Now I can't stand the darn thing. It's hard for active people to be forced into inactivity. I wish I could be totally zen about it but I always found solace while running. Running was one of the things that cleared everything else away. No worries, no stress, no bills, just grass and maybe a ball. Baseball is like that. That's why I like to go alone sometimes. Then it's just the game, everything else, the outside world fades away and for a while time freezes. One of the nice things about baseball is that it's as close to timeless as anything this country has produced. With minor exceptions the game is exactly the same as it was 100 years ago. Compared with other pro sports it basically stands still. Pro football came into it's infancy in the early part of the 20th century, at that point pro baseball was already 40 years old. If you brought someone from 1920 to see a modern football game they'd hardly know what they were watching. Football if radically different now than it was only 30 years ago. But baseball remains untouched. The bases are still 90 feet apart, the mound is still 60 feet 6 inches from the plate, the bats are still ash or oak, and the ball is still made the same way as it was when Ruth and Hornsby played.

Michael Mandelbaum’s “The Meaning of Sports” compares baseball to our agrarian past. It's a pastoral game, with its green grass and red dirt. It is a game played with wood and leather and little else of consequence. It begins in the spring plays out throughout the summer, growing to a climax harvested by the World Series every fall. Then it lies dormant through out the winter. Bart Giamatti, the former commissioner of baseball and father of the actor Paul Giamatti once said of baseball,

"It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in 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 alone.”

I think these are some of the reasons that baseball endures for me, and for others. The unchanging nature allows one to feel more of a connection to the past, and thus to the family that introduced the game to us. Stars of the past can be compared to the stars of today because they play roughly the same game under the same conditions (I’m ignoring the steroid issue for now). This is what gives the numbers of baseball the power. The numbers as well as the deeds behind them are the stories we pass down from one generation to the next. When I tell my kids, "I was there." I was there for Jeter's flip. I was there for Strawberry's pinch-hit slam. I was watching number 70. I was watching game 2131.

Thus, I journeyed out to Camden Yards in Baltimore this past opening day crutches and all. I went to escape work; I went to connect with my past. Though I was surrounded by thousands of strangers I was there alone, at peace. With me in that park, along with the record crowd were those separated by both space and time, my brother, my friends, my fathers both past and current. The magic of the game allowed me to connect with all of them. Of course I did so in part by using the conveniences of the present. I used my new camera phone to send pictures of the game to my family, particularly my brother with whom opening day had become a rite of spring. After drinking beers in the middle of the day and enjoying a few Eskae franks (which are, though I hate to say it, and with all respect to Fenway Franks, the best dog I’ve had at a stadium and the only ones close to being worth the price), I hobbled the interminable distance back to my car, and headed home, exhausted, sated, for some much needed couch time.

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