The Purpose of Baseball

Baseball, in my opinion, is a great game.

The greatest game.

I often argue with my friends that baseball is a “cerebral” game, as compared to football or basketball.  In baseball, not only must you be an athlete of some sort, but you also have to understand the game in all of its intricacies and details.

And, besides, try hitting a ball 3″ in diameter with a bat 3″ in diameter while it’s coming toward you at, say 88 mph.  Or, it could be an 80 mph slider, or a 75 mph curve ball.  Problem is, you’ll have less than a half-second to decide whether or not to swing.

Yet, that’s just one facet of the game’s greatness.

What makes the game great is the soul of the game.  Like the human soul, those are things you can’t see or touch, yet they give emotion, character, memory and binding.  Baseball is deeply human, and it has spanned generations of families and friends, fathers and sons, so that there is a common thread that runs through the fabric of the game.

In the end, whatever is torn apart is brought together again, even if only in a memory.  Baseball mirrors life.  As Bob Costas once said,

Baseball is a human enterprise. Therefore, by definition it’s imperfect. It’s flawed. It doesn’t embody perfectly everything that is worthwhile about our country or our culture. But it comes closer than most things in American life.

Oddly, that sounds like religion to me.  The antinomy of imperfect perfection.  I was lost, but now I’m found…was blind, but now I see.

And, the effects of the game are far-reaching.  It is not only a mechanically perfect game, but its features bring a certain righteousness to us all.  Branch Rickey stated:

A game of great charm, in the adoption of mathematical measurements to the timing of human movements, the exactitudes and adjustments of physical ability to hazardous chance. The speed of the legs, the dexterity of the body, the grace of the swing, the elusiveness of the slide — these are the features that make Americans everywhere forget the last syllable of a man’s last name or the pigmentation of his skin.

Ken Burns, whose 1994 18 1/2 hour miniseries documenting the game is a work of art, says this about baseball:

Nothing in our daily life offers more of the comfort of continuity, the generational connection of belonging to a vast and complicated American family, the powerful sense of home, the freedom from time’s constraints, and the great gift of accumulated memory than does our National Pastime.

And, finally, Colum McCann, in his April, 2012 NY Times article, summarizes succinctly the purpose of the game…to remember, to bind together, to bring joy.  He says,

Learning baseball is learning to love what is left behind also. The world drifts away for a few hours. We can rediscover what it means to be lost. The world is full, once again, of surprise. We go back to who we were.

We become the children of our children, the sons of our sons. We watch our kids as if watching ourselves. We take on the burden of their victories and defeats. It is our privilege, our curse too. We get older and younger at the same time.

I never meant to fall in love with baseball, but I did. I learned to realize that it does what all good sports should do: it creates the possibility of joy.

I am, at one point in time, father, son and grandson, because baseball inextricably binds us all into one place.  And, at one point in time, I am here, there, past and present…the good rises, the pain subsides, and, in any given moment, the joy of generations co-exist from many different places into one place.

Baseball is the greatest game, not because we are the best pitcher or hitter, but because it helps us know the other better, and, more than anything, we remember what matters.


Filed under Commentary

2 responses to “The Purpose of Baseball

  1. Jan Hubbard

    The simplicity of baseball is probably one of its greatest challenges. I grew up with a younger brother who loved baseball. He was never a very good player but he understood the joy of the game and would have been a great “play-by-play” game announcer.

  2. Execellent topic today. Enjoyed reading your perspective on the game as it relates to the individual player and the generations from the past, current, and future. We will all die one day and yet the game of baseball will live on forever from one generation to another. I sure home God loves baseball too. God bless.

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