1. Baseball playfully disregards the limits of time. In most timed sports, there comes a moment when one realizes that there is little left to do but watch the clock run out. There is no hope, there is only waiting for the end. In baseball, one finds at least a glimmer of hope even with two outs in the ninth inning; anything is theoretically possible. It's not that success is likely at the end, just that baseball allows us to practice a sense of possibilities in the face of mechanized life in the contemporary age. I still remember watching more than a score of innings with my brothers, watching the Braves and Mets on TBS start using outfielders to pitch, and going 18 innings. Such times, even if infrequent, inspire a sense that things are not as mundane and predictable as they might seem. This doesn't demonstrate the naive progressive sentiment, rather it inspires courage to persevere even in the face of great difficulty and improbable victory.
2. Baseball values aesthetics. There isn't a practical reason for stirrups or criss-crossed grass in the outfield. But half of the fun of a baseball game involves the sights and sounds of the environment that is created. We live in a world overly obsessed with the pragmatic and flashy. Baseball is a kind of spectacle too, but it invites fans to come and help create a unique, beautiful atmosphere. Ever felt a new, pro baseball? The stitching, the balance, and the awareness of the many component parts of that simple ball remind us of a time when craftsmanship mattered. Then there are those beautifully crafted bats. These artifacts remind us of a time when intricate detail and technique was prized. Keeping our children connected to baseball can call us back to a time when beauty wasn't just about window-dressing, and calls us to explore our vocations in every facet of our daily lives.
3. Baseball cultivates strategic thinking. There was a day when parents wished their children would spend less time watching television. Today, young people have attention spans that are too short to sit through most television programs or long movies. They are used to immediate gratification through interactive games and videos online. In such a climate, baseball can be excruciating for a young person. Perhaps they can sit down and watch a demolition derby, monster trucks, or even an NFL game without fulling understanding the nuanced rules. Baseball, on the other hand, cannot be appreciated with understanding the fine strategy involved in managerial decisions, base running risks, and field position. It requires contemplation about strategy that plays out slowly. This can train a young person's mind to appreciate and practice the role of strategic thinking, and watch strategy play out over a period of nine innings, or several games.
4. Baseball motivates us to play catch with the kids. If a parent is successful at getting children to sit and learn what's going on in a baseball game, this can lead to a happy family consequence: playing catch out in the yard or a nearby field. This isn't the whole game, just participation in a part of it that links parent and child in a traditional practice.
5. Baseball assembles teams of individual heroes who are part of something larger than themselves.
At Faithful Masks, we strive to cultivate the idea of vocation in our world. This involves understanding our callings in life in such a way that we serve God and neighbors through excellence in our work. Baseball is particularly helpful at illustrating the way in which a team is supported by the excellence of each individual. For most of the game, at any one time, there is an individual who receives the spectators' attention. This isn't selfishness, since a winning team needs a series of excellent individuals. A lead off double is useless without subsequent individuals stepping up and driving in the run. Seldom does event the best slugger or star pitcher have the ability to carry a team without consistent support.
6. Baseball facilitates conversation and contemplation. Baseball's detractors often point to the tedious or boring cadence of most games. Indeed, with pitchers warming up, throwing to first, and waving off pitch calls from the catcher, the pace can be rough for many. But this can also be one of the best parts of baseball for spectators at the ballpark. In few other sports is it socially acceptable to chat respectfully for such long periods during the game. Moreover, it is usually possible to hear over the crowd. Waiting and talking with friends and family about the game itself, or other things that matter, can be one of the best parts of shelling out money for tickets and over priced hot dogs.
7. Baseball favors consistency in vocation over flashy behavior. Baseball is about numbers. It teaches us that vocation involves consistent training, effort, and discipline. Players can't bypass such work (unless they are juicing perhaps) with a grand slam here and there. Rather, they must create habits of good work that play out over many games. This is an important lesson for young people and those in the midst of their careers. In business, school, and life, slow, steady excellence trumps a few flashy moments of success.
8. Baseball is a catalyst for free associations in a time of fragmentation. In our age of technology, career moves around the country, distance learning, and telecommuting, we also see people freeing church affiliation and participation in free associations or clubs. People pop in and out of virtual, online associations or groups, of course, but we are becoming dangerously distant from each other. Baseball brings people in a community together for a common experience. Sure, the stakes aren't really that great, but the camaraderie involved in most baseball markets seems to be a healthy social glue, so long as it doesn't become too much of a distraction from important political and social issues. We discuss this on our podcast episode "Bread and Circuses."
9. Baseball makes us face the fact that when we think this sport is boring, it is probably because we are boring ourselves. Baseball, like church, can indeed be boring even for those intellectually committed to it. I, for instance, avoid games that promise to be pitching duels between two teams that, late in the season, are mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. As G. K. Chesterton said, “There are no uninteresting things, only uninterested people.” Whenever we get fidgety, baseball asks us to quiet ourselves, contemplate, and consider that we may be bored because we aren't looking closely enough at the beauty and complexity around us. Baseball is especially boring for those who don't take the time to understand the game. Thus, baseball encourages intellectual curiosity and imagination.
10. Baseball reminds us of the importance of tradition, ritual, and history. In our age that alternately shuns tradition (thanks in part to the spirit of the Baby Boomers) and cherry picks it like faux-vintage fashion (thanks to the spirit of millennial hipsters), baseball brings us to a world that loves to recount history. As we watch a game, announcers and friends remind us of records to beat, traditions to uphold, and rituals--like throwing the ball "around the horn" that have both communal and practical value. Perhaps witnessing such things will stir up a hunger in future generations for time-honored traditions in other facets of life. Baseball does this, by the way, with occasional concessions to innovation (like helmets and inter-league play). Thus, it shows us that we can adapt to changing times without reinventing tradition every morning.
Perhaps this post is nothing but my self-justification. I plan on putting off a book review for another day because the Dodgers are still alive in the playoffs. My great grandfather, grandfather, father, and now sons all have listened to the legendary Vin Scully. This continuity from Brooklyn (many members of my family moved from New York to Los Angeles around the time when the Dodgers came out this way) is what keeps us Dodger fans even when Dodger fans themselves have caused some trouble. This condemnable, virtue-less sort of action suggests that all I'm saying might be foolish. Nonetheless, it may be that the sort of violence one sees in alcohol-fueled spectator altercations would only be worse without the social structures of America's past-time.
That's my off-the-cuff defense of why I will be excited to get home tonight and see how the Dodgers do. If they fail, perhaps a future post will recant what I say here. For, without my team in the mix, I may go fishing while others are watching the 2013 World Series. Am I a poor loser? Perhaps; but I never said that watching as corporations field over-paid and possibly steroid-riddled celebrities was morally obligatory. I'm just saying it has at least ten good aspects.