I was emailing with a friend today and the subject of why Americans like baseball came up. He was not born in the States and doesn’t quite get baseball. That conversation gave me the opportunity to put into words some ideas of why I love baseball. And now that’s given me a topic for a blog post.
I think most like baseball (along with many of our other preferences: other sports, music, tv, etc.) for nostalgic reasons. Many grow up playing the game, watching it, or going to the ball park with their parents or friends. One’s current spectatorship is tied into those memories and brings us back to that state of mind. It becomes a connection to one’s history and place. Quoting —(you have to by law, I think, quote Field of Dreams when you write about baseball)— the Terence Mann character in Field of Dreams:
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.
Though I don’t think the quote is precisely right, there is a lot of truth in it. Every time I emerge from a tunnel in a ball park, I am taken back to those first few times I passed from the dark of the tunnel under Fenway Park into the bright sunshine and pleasant cacophony of the crowd. I get a rush each and every time and feel like I am 10 years old again.
Moreover, being a Red Sox fan keeps me tied to my home state. It’s been roughly two decades since I lived in Boston, soon I will have lived more outside of Massachusetts than in it. But donning my Red Sox hat makes me feel a little like I can hop on the T to Quincy Market for some Pizzeria Regina any time I want.
I also like baseball for some other, more intellectual reasons.
One of the things I love most about baseball is the battle between pitcher and batter. This is the point of tension that the whole game turns on. What is the pitcher going to do? What kind of pitch will he throw? What about the runner on first? How will the batter respond? Will he let it go for a ball? Foul it off? Put it in to play?
Each pitch is its own game in a way and the strategy of what to pitch/how to hit changes depending on the number of outs, strikes, balls, men on base, etc. With each passing moment as the pitcher looks into the batter’s box the tension builds. The pitch is thrown and you wait on the batter’s swing–what’s going to happen? Will it be strike? A foul? A hit? A HR? Swing! And then the release of tension as this moment of the duel resolves itself but it immediately starts to build again for the next pitch. This rise and release of tension is, for me, the basic piece of enjoyment of watching the game. (This is one reason I am completely against a pitch clock.)
Another element of baseball I love is that it is a kind of a fractal. Stay with me here… You have the pitcher-batter tension point but that takes place within a whole at bat which is part of an inning, which is in a game, which is in a series. Each level has a similar repeating pattern: three strikes, three outs, nine innings, a best of three series. It’s not really a fractal but it is a kind of complex spontaneous order arising out of a set of simple rules, repeating each pitch, each at bat, each inning, each game, and each series. And yet despite repeating this pattern, each at bat, inning, etc., is unique and its own thing. There is something beautiful and satisfying in experiencing the infinite variety that arises while being constrained by a set of simple rules.
There are many other reasons to enjoy baseball: the excitement of a HR; the beauty of a double play; the amazing skill of chasing down a fly ball in the outfield. And if you are at a live game, forget about it! The beauty of the ballpark is worth the ticket in itself. But one shouldn’t feel that they have to like baseball. It’s one particular form of beauty and enjoyment among the endless assortment of human activities and endeavors worth admiring and enjoying. Whether it is baseball or something else, the important thing is to revel in what you love.