Why American Kids (and adults) Need Baseball

Opening Day of the Little League season is a High Holy Day around here.

Because we need to relearn patience. We are so obssessed with outcomes, with highlights and instant gratification that some of my high school students cannot imagine how I could love a sport that demands waiting, preparing, thinking through every scenario every single pitch, and waiting for your turn in line no matter how great you are. Anti-baseball people just cannot see the beauty of the about-to-happen, feel the transcendental power of suspense, follow the rythm of the in-between.

Baseball challenges our minds. It’s a puzzle, and open book, the next line of a poem that hasn’t quite been fininshed. It’s cliche to say that baseball is poetry. It also demeans baseball. It assumes that words can adequately capture actions.

Our kids need baseball because it connects them to the past. To know baseball history, is to know American history. The good, the bad, and the unbelivable. For a child to read books about baseball history is to open their eyes to a mythical world that rivals Middle Earth.

Because it makes larger than life heroes of older brothers…
…and sisters

Because as I write this it’s -14 here in upstate New York. Baseball does not announce the coming of spring. Baseball IS spring. It is a melting of bitter darkness, an end to our reliance on sweaty, squeaky indoor sports, a gushing forth of rivulets of hope from the frozen past of the season before, a bright sunlit new promise. The New Year does not start January 1. It starts in April.

Because it teaches kids to deal with failure. Repeatedly. It humbles us and keeps us human. It teaches us that sometimes we are alone against great odds. It is your at bat alone, just as this is your life alone. You make your choices and those choices have unavoidable consequences. Two out of three times you will be bested. You will deal with it. And consider it a good day.

Baseball reminds us that something need not be happening for something to be happening. In jazz they talk about the space between the notes. More than any other sport, baseball lives between the notes, the sights and sounds resonating down through the years.

It keeps us honest. Above politics. You can’t claim credit for things you didn’t do. And you cannot hide from the errors you committed.

It brings communities together. It makes families forget their differences.

It gives us a reason to put up with preteens…

Baseball is our greatest non music cultural export. Ever. It gives our nation an identify separate from our ability to blow stuff up.

It takes place beyond the bounds of arbitrary time. You cannot run out the clock. You cannot sit on the ball. You cannot turn the last few acts in a great drama, a back-and-forth, nose-to-nose thrilling contest into a ridiculous game of keepaway. You must win or you must lose. You cannot cheat the system.

Because it’s the only sport where we haven’t seen it all yet. When your football team is down 21 points with 2:00 to go and no timeouts you know it’s over. When your baseball team is down 9–2 in the 9th it’s only probably over. The difference is minute, but sometimes produces magic.

It’s played outside in the open air, under the clouds and the clear blue sky.

It gives us a destination. Each ballpark, from the local field to the New York-Penn to the MLB has its own aura, its own unique place in the community and in time and space, its own myths and legends and shadows, its own triumphs and tears.

America kids need baseball because it makes them more tolerant. Black, white, hispanic, native born or immigrant, the ONLY question that matters to the baseball kid is “can you play ball?”

America needs baseball because any parent can flick on the TV or park their kid in front of a gadget, quiet them down and claim victory. Any parent can tell their child you are strong enough to overcome failure but never give them a chance to prove it to themselves. Any parent can tell their child that patience is a virtue but not immerse them in an ethos where it is demanded and embraced. We can all make excuses about how we are too slow for track, to short for basketball or too slight for football but the ghost of Hack Wilson won’t let you make excuses on the baseball field. Hack held the NL record for Home Runs for decades and stood all of 5–6 with his cleats on. In baseball anything is possible. And what American kid doesn’t want to believe in possibilties?