I admit I was never rabid when it came to baseball. When the snow melted, thanks to Dad and Older Brother #1, the TV was always tuned to the Philadelphia Phillies games. The banter and play-by-play of Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn is as embedded in my brain as any of the Billboard 100 tunes of the 1980s. So having it on as background noise was more like birdsong, an avuncular nattering of walks, sliders, and the infield fly rule.
But that didn’t mean I did not pay attention to it in my own way. Older Brother #1’s influence meant that I would spend my money on baseball cards too. One of the best days of my life was winning a Louisville Slugger baseball bat off a Topps scratch-off card. Even better was the day when it arrived in the mail. I sensed the “I actually won something” tingling in my skin when it was extracted from the cardboard tube, and giddiness enveloped me. Al Kaline‘s autograph was branded by the tip. Dad had to explain who he was to me. Older Brother #1 just looked at me like I was unworthy scum. I didn’t care.
But we did use the bat in our backyard games using Frisbees as bases. And I did dabble a little in girls’ softball, but my interests turned more academic and dramatic as I got older. Baseball was a lot more fun when it wasn’t so organized and competitive. Leave that to the professionals, and I’ll just watch, thanks.
Allow me to change the subject and give you a small bit of gee whiz trivia because a blog post about the history of the game would not cut it. I mean, if Ken Burns did one of his marathon documentaries about it, what chance do I have to do baseball justice? Anyway, the word “base-ball” appear in the book A Little Pretty Pocketbook, Intended for the Instruction and Amusement of Little Master Tommy, and Pretty Miss Polly by John Newbery. It was first published in England in 1744 and has the distinction of being the first book written specifically for children. And if the name Newbery is ringing a bell, think of the Newbery Medal given every year in the United States for the best children’s books given by the Association for Library Service to Children.
See, I done learned ya.
The “base-ball” mentioned here is, of course, rounders. And, to those Britons who are patriotic about their sports, please don’t say that baseball is just rounders. It isn’t. It has evolved and involves a hell of lot more strategy than you can imagine. Besides, Major League Baseball even explores the origins of the sport by demonstrating the rules of rounders and other ball and stick games here, so it is not like baseball is forgetting its roots.
Back to the subject at hand. My love of baseball slowly came back after I returned to the States after my tour in England and culminated in being indoctrinated into Red Sox fandom after the Boffin and I moved to Massachusetts in 2003. I was obviously susceptible. I liked the game and didn’t have the team allegiance. It was natural that I assimilated into the Boston Borg. The New Englanders even indoctrinated the Sprog from birth. During her preschool days, whenever someone mentioned the Red Sox, she would say, “The Boston Red Sox! That’s my team!” Our Boston baby’s feelings haven’t changed.
Now, what is good about baseball? It’s a sport that is still accessible to anyone. It can be played with a ball and a stick just about anywhere from the city streets to the corn fields. A simple game of catch can turn into the World Series with a bit of imagination. Just look at the kids playing the sport in the poorer parts of Central and South America to see how it stretches across class lines.
And you can still afford to watch a game without having to sell your first born child, even if it is supporting your local minor league team. You also can bring your family there for some pretty silly and wholesome extra entertainment. Where else is your kid going to experience T-shirt guns, food character races, and fireworks in the same place?
However, watching baseball is calming for me. I guess it partly goes back to that dulcet soundtrack of my youth. Of course, I enjoy the home runs, the base steals, the fantastic catches, and all that jazz. But the quieter moments when the pitcher is trying to figure out whether to throw a fastball or a curve, when the coaches and managers are communicating in their alien sign language, when the players are steadily concentrating on whatever is coming next tell a huge story too. Not every moment has to have bells and whistles. You need the suspense to appreciate the action. Just like in life.