Monday, March 31, 2014

Boy did we need this one

After the longest winter anyone in these parts can remember, it just so happened that the day of the first outdoor practice of the season came on the first warm day of the year. And what do you know, despite there having been considerable snow on the ground just last week, today is Opening Day in the big leagues, a day that should be a national holiday. And it's supposed to be even warmer than yesterday. 

The baseball gods surely must be smiling upon us.

There is a famous quote from the cultural historian Jacques Barzun regarding baseball and the American soul. You've probably heard it.  Taken out of context as it usually is, it sounds simplistic and trite. Here is the quote, neither simplistic nor trite, in more detail but still far from complete:

Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball, the rules and realities of the game - and do it by watching first some high school or small-town teams. The big league games are too fast for the beginner and the newspapers don't help. To read them with profit you have to know a language that comes easy only after philosophy has taught you to judge practice. Here is scholarship that takes effort on the part of the outsider, but it is so bred into the native that it never becomes a dreary round of technicalities. The wonderful purging of the passions that we all experienced in the fall of 51, the despair groaned out over the fate of the Dodgers, from whom the league pennant was snatched at the last minute, give us some idea of what Greek tragedy was like. Baseball is Greek in being national, heroic, and broken up in the rivalries of city-states. How sad that Europe knows nothing like it! Its Olympics generate anger, not unity, and its interstate politics follow no rules that a people can grasp. At least Americans understand baseball, the true realm of clear ideas.*
I've always been a baseball fan but I fell in love with the game in earnest during a ball game at U.S. Cellular Field here in Chicago, sitting in the stands with my wife who was pregnant with our first child. We knew we were going to have a boy and it dawned on me that beautiful August evening in the year 2000 that in a few years, I'd be playing catch with my son. Suddenly the game took on a whole new meaning. No longer was it the casual amusement I once took for granted. It was the game of my country and its people, a precious institution I'd be entrusted to pass on to the next generation.

My son has never read Barzun, but he certainly would understand the connection between baseball and Greek tragedy; he has experienced it himself. Baseball as the late A. Bartlett Giamatti wrote: "is designed to break your heart." My heart has been broken along with my son's on many an occasion.

But not today.

As is my annual tradition, I repeat two truly simplistic and trite axioms, that define what this day is all about:

The slate is wiped clean,


All hope springs eternal.

If you don't buy that, maybe these photos will help:

Undisclosed child on his first opening day, undisclosed date.
Aforementioned child's first at bat.

Opening day at its purest, the future secure,

play ball!

* Excerpt from: God's Country and Mine: A Declaration of Love Spiced with a Few Harsh Words - Jacques Barzun
You can read more from this passage here.

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