|For Love of the Game||| Print ||
Written by Jonathan Leshanski (Contact & Archive) on March 03, 2008
There is a reason we flock back to the ballpark season after season.Â The smell of the freshly mown grass, the sounds of the grandstands, the catcalls, the cheers, the sight of the pitcher stepping to the mound and rearing back to throw, the excitement of opening day and the cry of â€śPlay Ballâ€ť all creep into our thoughts when we think of baseball.Â
Baseball is a perhaps the most engrained sport in the American psyche. It has a history stretching back 150 years and offers us a continuity which almost nothing else we can relate to.Â Even the younger of our baseball leagues (the American League) is 105 years old.Â Â Somewhere in baseball we find a tie to a better time, a time when America was simpler and more innocent.Â
The world has changed a lot in 150 years. Baseball hasnâ€™t. With the exception of the designated hitter, which should be abolished in my opinion, baseball today is essentially the same game it was when organized baseball made its appearance.Â Â Thatâ€™s not to say that the game hasnâ€™t evolved.Â The athletes are stronger and better, the color barrier has fallen, the reserve clause which kept players in an unfair bondage is gone, and strategies, especially pitching strategies, have grown up.Â
But if you took someone from 120 years ago and dropped them down in Busch Stadium, they wouldnâ€™t find the game all that different.Â They might be shocked by the architecture, the size of the ballpark and the concessions (especially the prices), but theyâ€™d recognize the game on the field and know exactly what was going on as they watched.Â
And in that baseball has achieved a type of immortality.Â Itâ€™s something we can talk to our children, our parents, our grand parents about. Itâ€™s one thing we can pass on from generation to generation, essentially unchanged. Each generation can totally relate to whether the names of the most familiar players were Speaker or Cobb, Jackson or DiMaggio, Greenberg or Robinson, A-Rod or Pujols.Â
In that baseball offers a connection that spans the ages, offering us a bridge to our own past.Â For baseball fans thatâ€™s a storied past, full of games not seen, tales not yet told, and a rich history which it seems every boy (and many girls) at some point in their life needs to spend hours exploring.Â
The deeper into the past we go, the greater the legendary figures of players like Babe Ruth, Satchel Paige, Duke Snyder seem to be.Â They become more perfect, more idealized, as do those special accomplishments: Don Larsonâ€™s perfect game in the World Series, Jackie Robinson joining the Dodgers, Reggie Jacksonâ€™s three home runs in a World Series game.Â
And thatâ€™s the strength of baseball. In many ways it is a nostalgia machine, taking us back into a time that becomes more perfect as the years slip away.Â Â Ruthâ€™s womanizing and alcoholism off the field didnâ€™t stand the test of time, nor did accusations that Cobb and Speaker, two Hall of Famers, may have fixed games.Â Â No, baseball has its strengths, and weaknesses and human frailty tend to be forgotten in the long run.Â Â Imperfect men are remembered for playing the perfect game.
Thatâ€™s what we remember; thatâ€™s what keeps us coming back.