|The Game of Baseball and why we are drawn to it|
Written by Jonathan Leshanski (Contact & Archive) on July 21, 2003
I’m an admirer of the millionaire and even some of the billionaires, but only for the reason that they advance something far greater than themselves by bringing artistry to baseball. That’s what it really is, the artistry, because in the grand scheme of things players, managers, coaches, owners, and even fans are replaceable and interchangeable. The grand scheme is baseball. It’s more than just a part of my life, but a part of the fabric of America.
No matter where you travel, baseball is a part of the American consciousness - from tin signs hanging in old bars and restaurants, to television commercials, to the video games that our kids play. It’s ingrained into almost all of us. Even those people who are not fans have been indoctrinated to the game. Baseball, in its own essence is a religion, not just any religion, but the American religion. Americans attend more baseball games every season than attend the religious services of all religions combined in the US. No wonder baseball parks have been referred to as cathedrals by many writers in the past.
The past is what hooks us all - whether a Yankees fan that grew up on the legend of Ruth, Mantle or Gerhig, or a Giants fan who has the exploits of the “Say Hey Kid” in his memory - the story is the same. Baseball is a part, not just of our past, but also of our parents, and sometimes even those of our parent’s parents. It is the equivalent of the storytelling that used to be held among the campfires of our ancestors. It is an oral history, a tradition, handed down from one generation to the next.
Like all mythology it changes and evolves, especially in the case of modern baseball. In truth the game has changed and changed a lot. Free agency has done in a lot of legends, as players have become more mercenary and are rarely the local institutions that they were in the past. It’s not a condemnation of the players, just of a changed system. No doubt Ted Williams would not be so beloved if he had refused to sign with Boston and had gone to the Yankees to “get a ring.”
Still we go to the games, because of all sports baseball is still the most family friendly - a statement to which I make, but often take exception to when I see a game. Baseball unlike the sports that have followed is no Johnny come lately, it has a mythology that no other sport can match. Perhaps more importantly however, is that baseball is the most affordable of all of the big sports - especially when one is taking the whole family. The best seats in many stadiums can still be purchased for under $30 a seat. Compared to basketball, hockey or football it’s a mere pittance. Comparable seats at arenas I have visited for football, basketball or hockey usually start at $65 and go up as high as $200 a seat for non-corporate seats. Corporate seats are usually higher.
Also unlike other sports baseball is a relaxed sport. There is no time limit, the games take place ideally on a beautiful night when one can be outdoors with the family and not have something one has to do, like a barbeque or yard party does. It’s about sitting back and enjoying.
Perhaps our enjoyment of baseball comes from something else, baseball is America’s game not because someone said it was, but because it was a bonding and uniting experience for our forbearers with their different races and backgrounds, but because we all played it. Even as recently as the 1960’s, solo activities such as video games, and limited group games such as board games had little draw on American kids because they were not as widespread or as easy to access. To entertain themselves, kids got together and interacted.
When our parents played, all baseball really required was a piece of lumber, broomstick, bat or 2”x4” to serve as a bat, a ball of some sort and an open space. There was no need for fancy equipment or a frozen pond, just exuberance and the space to play. Perhaps that’s the critical reason that kids have less enthusiasm for the game today. They really don’t get to play as often, there are so many other distractions, ones which don’t require socializing as much to have fun and entertain themselves, or maybe its the fact that baseball today is about $200 mitts, $40 bats, shin guards, helmets, and so much other miscellaneous equipment that its no longer “everybody’s” game. Still it’s refreshing to note, that baseball simulations are among the top selling of video games.