As cold weather and near blizzard conditions ravage the midwest, south, and eastern seaboard of the United States, it seems ridiculous to say that spring has finally arrived throughout the entire country. No, it has nothing to do with Groundhog Day, nor does it have anything to do with the temperature. Snow may continue to fall throughout the month of March, but this week the country received an indication that summer is just around the corner: baseball season has arrived.
This week marks the beginning of the preseason and the unofficial start to the 2015 Major League Baseball season. Often referred to as America’s favorite pastime, baseball has long served as the patriotic fabric holding the country together in good times and bad. As James Earl Jones’ character Terrence Mann stated in “Field of Dreams”:
“Ray. People will come, Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. ‘Of course, we won’t mind if you look around’, you’ll say, ‘It’s only $20 per person.’ They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they’ll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and that could be again. Oh…people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.”
Through the wars and recessions, from the roaring twenties to the Great Depression, baseball has been the one constant, as Terrence Mann stated in his fabled monologue. Not only does baseball signify the changing of seasons and provide hope that summer is almost here, the game has been the one constant holding America together in the best of times and in the worst of times. Baseball brings people and communities together. You cannot have the same experience at a football or basketball game where the action is seemingly unending, barely affording the crowd a chance to breathe. Baseball is fast and slow all at the same time. It is arguably more mental than physical, more scientific than artistic, and more strategic than instinctive. Although if you grew up watching Ken Griffey Jr., you may have a strong argument about the artistic part. The game is situational and requires more mental and physical endurance than any other professional American sport with a season lasting 162 games, not including the pre and post seasons. And because of the fact that baseball is on almost every single day of the summer, the game provides a welcome escape to the travails and pressures of daily life. Nothing can beat a warm summer evening at the ballpark, the smell of freshly cut grass, and a handful of sunflower seeds or cracker jacks, as you sit down to watch your favorite team in the company of your city.
While baseball is a daily community event, bringing people together from far and wide, it also has a significant impact on a more micro level. It is a game of fathers and sons, families and friends. The game creates bonds like no other sport. You can play catch with a basketball or football, but it’s just not the same. You can feel a rush of excitement at a football or basketball game, but nothing compares to watching your favorite team play on a summer evening with your dad or best friend. And should your city experience a postseason run as fall closes in, forget it. If you’re lucky to have that occur in your childhood, those memories and experiences, staying up late to watch the final pitch or listening to post game show on the radio next to your bed, will stay with you for the rest of your life. I will never forget the 1995 Mariners. And that’s the beauty of baseball. It is both personal and communal. Much of what makes the game unique may be described with words, but as for what makes it truly special, well you would just have to experience those moments for yourself because they are impossible to articulate.
Unfortunately, it seems like the millennial generation has lost interest in the sport. Few want to spend three plus hours sitting in the same spot without constant visual or electronic stimulation. The baby boomers blame the short attention spans of millennials. The millennials complain that baseball is boring and too slow. While ratings have not fallen drastically in the past few years, the long term projections for baseball has the league and its marketing professionals worried. Every industry and profession must adapt or die as time progresses, and perhaps it is too idealistic to think of a world where baseball remains relatively static, but the game should never bend for the complaints of a single generation. Games should not be unnecessarily shortened (or sped up), baseball does not need flashing foul poles to entertain overprescribed adolescents, and it definitely should not compromise its traditions (i.e. excessive instant replays replacing umpires). Baseball is much more than a game. Its traditions mean something not just to the game itself, but to America as a whole. As we move into the future, the only thing baseball needs to do is maintain the integrity of the game and its past (i.e. no steroids or A-Roids). The game must uphold the traditions that make it great – nine innings and 162 games of pure, daily competition.
But for now, take solace in the fact that spring is here and baseball is back.