Mom and dad both kept stuff in a wooden chest, tucked away for us.
“Kids, open this when the time comes. Sort through it. Relive what you can. Enjoy what you can. Discard what you will…”., mom repeated on a number of occasions, with that cadence for which her speech was well known. Friends wanted her to be the voice on their answering machines, that clear, strong, unequivocal tone.
Fact is she was bemused by our devotion to baseball and the team, but she didn’t much relate to it. Nonetheless, for reasons I neither understood nor questioned, she baked an apple pie each time we went to a game. It would be there when we got home. Delicious either way, but frankly always tasted better if we won. And, whether we ate at the park or not, the apple pie beckoned us when we got back to the homestead.
In the morning we’d read the paper. Yes we were there the night before, but both of us had to read about the same game we just saw to confirm “Yes, that is what happened, uh-huh…” Or “No, that isn’t quite the real story.”
Second, guessing the manager was and is inevitable. In fact, it is as American as apple pie. Except, wait a second, it’s not second guessing that is as American as apple pie, is it? It’s baseball.
You go to a game. There you are part of a family consisting of a whole lot of folks whose names you do not know, and to whom you actually have no blood relationship or otherwise. But, you would put your arm around them in a second, and they you.
Baseball, apple pie and fellowship: Interwoven, interconnected, and seamless.
At the ball park, we are all equal. We come from everywhere, anywhere, we root for one or holler at another. We hope to catch a ball from the field. We think someone on the field can hear us as we exhort the team, or boo the Ump, or just plain shout into the air.
And yes, we talk about it afterwards. Sometimes we grumble, some times we hiss. On occasion we are delighted, our conversation light and rapid.
All that said, on my death bed do you think there is any chance I will ruminate over Kershaw’s no hitter (which I attended mind you) on June 19, 2014? Ok, probably not, but baseball matters. It really does.
History tells us a common slogan for those fighting in World War II was “for mom and apple pie”, which ultimately gave rise to “as American as motherhood and apple pie…” Then in 1950 came the patriotic song The Fiery Bear, to create clear distinction between the symbol of our culture and the Russian bear of the Soviet Union: We love our baseball and apple pie We love our country fair We’ll keep Old Glory waving high There’s no place here for a bear
Perhaps a bit tacky, but advertisements in the 1970s gave us a well known, well worn jingle: Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet, they go together in the good ol’ USA!
Baseball has a number of “baked in” traditions (oh groan, a pun related to apple pie…): The presentation of the starting line-up card. Throwing out the first ball. Standing for the National Anthem. The exhortation: “Play ball!” Signs from catcher to pitcher, from third base coach to batter. The manager, often near the steps of the dug out. A bull pen. Certain foods to be sure, although that is becoming more diverse (and dare I say), even healthy choices are available… We have a salute to a military Veteran. We have crowd pleasers on the big screen. Bat flips. Beethoven’s refrain from the 5th Symphony on a strike-out. Bat boys and bat girls. The vendor we love. The baseball greats of yesteryear in the “Old Timer’s Game…” And of course, I mean, obviously we are going to sing and sway to “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”, even though the guys who wrote it had never before gone to a baseball game…
Baseball matters. It is a constant in a world of change, noise, and violence. It is a sport of grace, played too slowly for many, but which gives us time to talk, even look at our cell phones, drift a bit and cloister ourselves from that nasty outside world.
It gives us the Fall Classic. It reminds us of how obstacles, hurdles, down turns, failures and frustration can be turned around — any number of players who were about to give up are now making headlines, from a journeyman named Max Muncy this season on the Dodgers, to the still feared hurler Justin Verlander who we have learned struggled with depression, and who thought very seriously of giving-up all together not so long ago.
Baseball is a sport for men and for women. With integration of color, we are finally having even greater integration of genders,from Umpires to announcers to team ownership. You don’t think players — men and women have to be on different teams? Really? At the major league level? College? High school, even little league? Really? I disagree.
In either event, baseball has an enduring connection with America, from the sandlot to the big leagues. Who better epitomizes that than baseball’s larger-than-life Babe Ruth, raised in a school of wayward kids. So too the players from the sugar fields of Cuba and Puerto Rico, who came from so little to become so much, like Minnie Minoso and Roberto Clemente. Of course the quest for integration is exemplified by Jackie Robinson. As is the epitome of strength and grace from the forever wistful voice of Lou Gehrig: “I am the luckiest man alive”, spoken not just to those in Yankee Stadium that day but as well to those of us who never saw him play, who were not even born then.
At the start of games we now see kids run onto the field so players can sign autographs for them. Players toss balls into the stands. Franklin Roosevelt, shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, wrote the “Green Letter” asking that baseball not be canceled for the upcoming 1942 season. FDR knew stress and distraction could be found at the ball parks, or listening on the radio. George W. Bush, who took the mound at Yankee Stadium October 30, 2001, threw a darn good pitch to open the third game of the 2001 World Series, amidst chants of “U-S-A, U-S-A” echoing across the entire landscape.
Wars could not stop baseball, nor a depression.
Social commentator Jacques Barzun famously said “Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball,” and emphasized the teamwork that is the essence of good play: “When we look at the triumphs of American technology on a large scale… we see the fine working of a national machinery – everybody in every department cooperating effectively with no gaps in time.” And we whisper: Tinkers-to Evers-to Chance.
Historian Bruce Catton made clear “baseball is a… pageant and a ritualized drama, as completely formalized as a Spanish bullfight, and although it is wholly urbanized it still speaks of the small town in the simple rural era that lived before the automobile came in to blight the landscape. One reason for this is that in a land of unending change, baseball changes very little
Continuity. Like a friend who you can catch up with almost immediately, even if it’s been awhile since you saw each other, maybe even quite awhile.
There is concern young people today are not quite so enthusiastic about baseball. We her it is proceeds far too slow for so many. Funny that, as I write this from a ball park, no one around me, thousands around me, thousands, do not seem to agree in the slightest.
“Peanuts!? Ge your roasted peanuts!”
“Make it two bags buddy… thanks! Keep the change!”