This is a response to a fun piece written by Joe Posnanski. It isn’t a rebuttal per se because I agree with him; rather it is a tiny addendum. * If you didn’t read it, or bother to click the link provided, basically JoPo demonstrates one of the great wonders of baseball. If it happens in the game you’re watching, chances are very good it has happened before. The treat for so many baseball fans is its incredible long history. So when I see a player hit a home run from both sides of the plate in the same inning, it probably happened before. JoPo is right of course, but I think there is more to it than just a connection between two odd events. By bearing witness to a special occasion that has happened in the past, we get connected to that past and it makes the history of the game all the more meaningful. No other American sport holds us in the same way and its why baseball will always matter. It may not get the television ratings of other sports or be the weekly event that football is, but baseball does something very few other cultural events can do it not only makes the past more relevant but it brings us together as well. One of the great joys of talking baseball to my father is hearing about the players I never saw, the stadiums I never visited and the pennant races that are legend. A big reason for this, apart from the revered place baseball history has in our culture, but it also is relatively recognizable to us. Yes, players are bigger, faster, stronger, but they are not the mutated specimens of football or basketball. I’ve encountered athletes from pretty much all sports and the only ones that didn’t make me feel like a child were the baseball players. (Granted I never met the likes of Frank Thomas, but he was also a starting tight end from Auburn.) Also one of the things I hear my dad talk about is how much basketball has changed, how it isn’t the game he once played. Baseball as touchstone also relies on the game itself changing very little over the course of one hundred plus years.
*It’s kind of odd calling a 1,000 word essay ”tiny.” However, compared to JoPo, it truly is a drop in the wordsmith bucket. Also, I find it terribly interesting that I can read an Internet tome from JoPo and be engaged, entertained and informed. Yet I get two paragraphs into a Bill Simmons piece and my eyes glaze over.
I feel that, while it probably has happened before in baseball it still is special. JoPo seems to be discounting that fact and I think he misses a key point.** Yes, there might have been another occurrence of a strange event, like one pitcher starting back-to-back World Series for different teams, or the third baseman loses the ball in his shirt, it is still awesome that I get to see it. The best comparison I can come up with is from the realm of the Grateful Dead and Phish. Among Dead Heads and Phish Heads there is a certain collectors mentality. We love to count the songs we’ve seen, remember the setlists from shows we’ve attended and trade shows that we think are worth sharing. The great thing about all of these activities is that they are very individual pursuits, yet we can all appreciate the significance of a rare moment, or spectacular performance. I am one of the few people to have seen Phish perform Spock’s Brain (Blossom 6/20/95, overall great show but SHITTY Weekepaug Groove), which would be even more awesome if it were actually a good song. It is a great moment in a show when the band plays something that they haven’t played in years, even better than seeing the premiere of a song. Like those episodes from baseball, a song that hasn’t been played in five or ten years makes the fans cheer wildly, congratulate one another and feel a connection between the band and their fellows that I don’t think fans from other bands get to experience. A new song or new moment, doesn’t bring the past with it, it doesn’t have that connection which sparks memory and curiosity. As much as I love Bruce Springsteen, I don’t think a bust out of Mary Queen of Arkansas would make the crowd go wild. More to the point I don’t think many Bruce fans would be know that it had be X amount of performances since he last played it and it was an especially poignant moment in the concert.
** Also, it is probably more accurate to say the JoPo goes WAY OFF into a another line of discussion, and sort of loops back, but well I’m staying here.
And while this is a salient point in most sports, I think because of the frequency of baseball games, the way it becomes a part of every day life throughout the summer, each individual game, each individual play, is unique unto itself. I wrote a while back about this, about how a pretty much nothing game in the middle of the week can still be a special time. Football isn’t played enough to capture that kind of moment and basketball and hockey don’t hold our collective imaginations nor do they get inside that rhythm of life like baseball. Again, Dead and Phish shows are very much like that. (Especially if you’re traveling around the country going to shows night after night.) I’ve seen Phish 44 times and listened to countless Dead shows and yet I never get bored and can point you to a good, great and out of this world version of a number different songs. As the Professor likes to say from the Deadpod, “You wouldn’t know it by the set list, but it is a rocking show.” In much the same way, I’ve seen countless baseball games, yet each one is ultimately its own happening. The game has that historic presence that connects us to the past and yet still provides meaning to us today. Yes, I know it’s just baseball and the meaning I truly gain from it is minuscule compared to so much throughout my life, yet it provides something that I can keep to myself, I share with a friend and pass on to my son and daughter. It provides joy. Or to put it another way: It’s only baseball, but I like it, yes I do.