September 26th, 2005

An ode to baseball–and invalids

As an inveterate Red Sox fan, last year was really the pinnacle—it just couldn’t get any better than that.

So I have to confess that, although the Red Sox are doing fine this year, I haven’t paid all that much attention. After all, they don’t need me any more to sweat it out, to leave the room and pace and wring my hands when things get tight, to turn off the TV for a few minutes when things get really tight. Fellow Red Sox fans will understand what I mean; others might think I’m quite loony, but this is standard operating procedure in Red Sox Nation.

I said after last season that if the Sox didn’t win for the rest of my lifetime it wouldn’t bother me, because the curse was lifted in such dramatic and overwhelming fashion—first, by the record-setting and historic reversal against the dread detested Yankees, of all people; next, by the cakewalk in the Series itself. Wins are no longer necessary for many years to come, although they still would be nice.

Those of you who are not baseball fans (and I used to count myself among you) can’t understand what the fuss is about. It’s such a slow, boring, game, after all, isn’t it? I used to think that, too, until two things happened. The first was that my son played Little League (now, there’s a slow, boring game). The second was that I sustained a back and arm injury about fifteen years ago and was very limited for quite a while in what I could do.

The Little League games taught me the rules of baseball, in a venue in which I couldn’t help but care—watching my son’s rise and fall on the field. I came to appreciate the beauty and grace of the game, the extreme tension produced by slowness punctuated by moments of great drama, the sequential spotlighting of each individual within a team.

Then when I became injured, baseball was there for me—as, I learned, it is for many people facing health problems. Baseball’s season is long, and a game occurs virtually every day. Someone cooped up and housebound can have a daily appointment with something outside of him/herself, an activity that lasts a number of hours and becomes engrossing, when there are precious few other activities that fit that bill.

Baseball features players who look relatively “ordinary,” despite the fact that they are highly honed athletes. They are neither freakishly tall, as in basketball, nor hulking behemoths, as many are in football, but men who look deceptively like anyone you might meet on the street, although a bit more fit. Their faces and bodies are exposed, unlike in ice hockey or football, games in which helmets and equipment cover and distort to a certain extent.

Watching the same baseball team day after day (or evening after day), the viewer gets to know each player very well—how he moves, his facial expressions, his nervous tics (Nomar Garciaparra was famous for them; for instance, he had a ritual with the hands and the gloves that had to be seen to be believed, but it wasn’t magical enough to keep him with the Sox for the World Series win). And it’s not totally incidental—at least for women fans—that baseball players tend to be young, good-looking men.

When one is in chronic pain, the mind finds it hard to focus. Things that formerly were fascinating, like books, can sometimes require too much concentration and effort. Baseball’s pace seems just right. It kept me sane while I recuperated, which took a long time. But baseball’s got the time—one of the few things in this high-paced world that still does.

11 Responses to “An ode to baseball–and invalids”

  1. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

    Lifelong Sox fan. I can identify with leaving the room at tight spots. I turned the 1986 World Series off and on every five minutes, unable to endure either listening or not listening.

    Pancho — thank you for Mr. Timlin, who has been less heralded, but our best pitcher this year.

    I have no television, so my son invited me over to watch at his house last year. I still ask him “Did the Red Sox really win last year? Did it really happen?” I have followed the Sox more closely this year, but with a curious detachment. All my years of rehashing with other fans “Why did they take Willoughby out…if only they had put Stanley in for the last out…if only Armbrister hadn’t gotten that generous call…If only Jim Rice hadn’t been injured… if only, if only” are now ended. Who cares now? No one agonizes over such things anymore. Odd. Very odd.

    Field of Dreams was based on Kinsella’s book Shoeless Joe, but his similar book The Iowa Baseball Confederacy is much better.

  2. paulfrommpls Says:

    As Joe Garagiola titled his autobiography many years ago, “Baseball is a funny game.” Which it is – hilarious at times, and most games have something to prove it.

    Don’t know if it’s true, but there’s a story regarding my Cubs I thought I’d pass along. Don’t know the players involved, but allegedly, one day there was a close play at the plate. The catcher lunged, the player slid; the umpire made no call, because both had missed. There’d been no tag and the runner had missed the plate.

    Unaware, the runner picked himself up, trotted to the dugout and sat down at the far end, assuming he’d been called safe. Suddenly the catcher realized what was up and ran to the dugout to apply the tag – but he’d forgotten who the runner was.

    He worked his way done the line of sitting players, tagging one after the other, as the umpire subtly shook his head. “No – not him. Nope.”

    As the catcher approached, the actual runner at the end suddenly leapt up and sprinted back to the plate – which the alert pitcher was covering , as he should! There folloeed a rundown between home plate and the dugout before the tag was finally applied.

    Okay, there are conceptual issues. Didn’t the runner leave the basepath, meaning he would be out? And as for the concept of a rundown between the plate and the dugout – the dugout offers no sanctuary, so that makes no sense.

    Still, baseball is a funny game, is the point.

  3. Ron Says:

    A wonderful post, and a story I haven’t heard of for how someone could get into baseball, which, given how many baseball stories there are, is kind of amazing!

    I think a lot of the joy of baseball is what I call the zen rhythm of the pitcher and hitter. They’re playing a multidimensional game of rock-paper-sissors, and as many times as I watch it, it still surprises you!

    Thanks again.

  4. Chris Says:

    Baseball is a game which seems unbelievably boring, but on closer inspection is extremely complicated. I enjoyed watching baseball from an early age, and I understood the game relatively well. After all, it is a simple game, right? After coaching my son for a year (HS age) I realized how much more thinking is required on the field. Where to place the fielders, what the count is, how that affects the other team’s strategy, do I start warming someone up, who’s up next inning, not taking into account each player’s variation on this theme.

    Baseball is also the perfect radio sport. You don’t have to see the action to visualize it. Basketball moves too quickly, and football requires vision of the field to appreciate it fully. Baseball can be heard and not seen, and still be fully satisfying.

  5. Anonymous Says:

    go vikings!

  6. Chris Austin Says:

    Awesome post! Fellow Sox fan here…I came across your site through Shaddow of Diogenes. For me (27) it started the moment I could understand what was going on, and the nuance is what excited me at first. As I grew older and the heartbreaking flops piled up, it was more about how much of an idiot Jimy Williams was or what move we should have made in the offseason. The drama of Red Sox Nation – assist from WEEI – took over.

    Once they won the series…I don’t know, I was once again fascinated by the nuance and suddenly the drama just became noise. I’m there now, and these last 7 games, I’m going to enjoy them whether they win or lose. I’ve never been able to say that…of course there will be a requisite bout with depression immediately afterwards.

    I was out in Colorado and caught them playing a series at Coors last summer…wrote this:

  7. Pancho Says:

    Ah it has been a good year! Our very own AA Midland Rockhounds won the Texas League title this year, outright, for the first time in our history [we've tied before]. It doesn’t get any better than up close minor league ball.

    By the way, our very own Midland High School alum Mike Timlin pitches for some team up in your area I believe :>]

  8. Jack Rich Says:

    You are forgiven for being a Sox fan; I’m from the Bronx and you may guess which team I normally root for. But my Dad was from Boston, so we had interesting discussions when he and I went to Yankee Stadium and a certain Boston team was visiting…

    But your post is just so; baseball is a tonic for some of the ills of today’s over-fast life.

    Here’s something else: listening to a game on the radio is even better, especially if you’d been to the park from which the game is being broadcast from.

  9. Downtown ATL Says:

    Well stated… As a baseball fan I quickly identified.

    I appreciate your comment on tics and expressions.

    My familiarity with my Braves means I can recognize most player’s voices on the radio, and recognize pitchers warming in the bullpen from across the stadium based on their delivery style.

  10. Ben Calvin Says:

    Your post captures quite a bit of the appeal of baseball.

    Another is the natural rhythm of the game, which, if the announcers are good, is enhanced in the broadcast.

    I grew up in Los Angeles, and Vin Scully is still calling most of the Dodger games, as he has for 50 years now. The combination of baseball knowledge, personal history and use of the spoken English language is something I love no matter how well the team is doing in a particular year.

  11. bob sykes Says:

    My mother, now 93, is a fanatical Red Sox fan. She even knows the names of the players and coaches. Whenever they play, the Red Sox games were always on the radio or now TV. Curt Gowdy was the sound track of my childhood. Too bad you can’t get ‘Gansett here in Ohio.

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