What is baseball?
I don’t mean the dictionary definition, of course. “a game of ball between two nine-player teams played usually for nine innings on a field that has as a focal point a diamond-shaped infield (yawn) with a home plate and three other bases, 90 feet (27 meters) apart, forming a circuit that must be completed by a base runner in order to (zzzzzz…)”
Perhaps a better question: What does baseball mean? The answer is different for each of us, of course.
For some, baseball is the theater curtain hanging in the background behind our latest performance of “The Cookout”. While the first fires of Spring fill the neighborhood with the welcome scent of steaks, the rotating cast of friends and family make their presence–or absence–known. We introduce the yard to the newest cast members, reintroduce others, and share a warm embrace with those who have become like family. All the while, the sounds of baseball are translated in the background by a voice as familiar as any friend.
For others, baseball is something like a strand of rosary beads. Trinity-to-the-power-of-trinity chances for redemption, no countdown from any external clock; it is the only one of the Major Sports where it is never too late for redemption, so long as there’s a little life left in which to whisper a prayer. The cathedrals, pristine and pointing towards order, play home to stain-glass crowds. The foul lines, so perfect and white as they converge from the poles, through the vast emerald green grass, often blur as they meet humanity and earth. From dust we came, and to dust we shall return as we seek the ultimate goal: home
For a few, baseball is a bunk bed, a place of comfort to climb while the storm rages outside. It is a blanket of sunshine and ballet and art. It is an adventure movie on a contraband screen under the covers, watching the superhumans do impossible feats so that we might forget the monsters just outside, or believe once again that maybe the impossible… isn’t.
For the rest, baseball is something of a social glue, a language that fills the gaps and keeps us together. It is a parallel where perhaps no other common ground exists. Political allegiances, religions and denominations, racial and cultural tensions, and any other number of things that can be divisive in our day-to-day lives-- they all fall away at the gates of the ballpark, as we sit–often by a total stranger–and cheer for the home team. Your boss may be an idiot… but at least he’s not a Blue Jays fan.
You won’t find anything about cookouts or God or thunderstorms or politics in the official rule book. But they’re there, hiding between the cold gray lines of print, waiting to be discovered. And now, after a long winter of waiting, they have all returned.
It’s Opening Day.