28 September 2011

On Baseball

No sport causes one to stop and wax poetic like baseball does.  You don't see an ode to a hockey fight, or read epic poetry about a fast-break.  Baseball has the ability to be mythologized unlike any other sport. 

Baseball makes for the best movies.  I mean, really.  How many good basketball movies are there?  No.  White Men Can't Jump doesn't count.  How many good soccer movies are there?  No.  Bend it Like Beckham isn't really about soccer.* 

So what is it about baseball?  Those of you who know me know that the summers of my entire life have been taken up with baseball.  Whether it was as a player up until my late high school years, or as an umpire in the years since I was 17, few summers went by that weren't touched by this game. 

For me, baseball just feels like home. The smell of the leather of the glove.  The feel of a ball smacking into the glove.  The crunch of the dirt under your cleats.  The way the seams of the ball feel under your fingers.  The feel of hitting a ball just right is something that can't be duplicated in any other way.** 

In many ways, striving for a perfect throw, or hitting the ball perfectly is pretty much what us musicians do with music.  We search for the musical space where there is only a perfect feeling, where we don't even feel our instruments in our hands, and when we metaphorically "hit it out of the park."

So why have I been moved to wax poetic myself?  Today the baseball season ended for the Blue Jays.  They're the team I grew up with, and were my companions throughout my springs, summers and into the autumns.  I've always felt a special bond with the Blue Jays, having been born in the same year that they began playing.  I never felt even tempted, living for 2 years in Boston, one of the real Meccas of baseball, to switch my allegiance.  

All sport can be seen as a metaphor for life, and it goes beyond the mere "ya win some, ya lose some" sloganeering.  Baseball's long season (162 games is a lot of baseball) is not for the action junkie.  Baseball makes you take the long view.  Baseball makes you focus on one pitch at a time, but also teaches you not to dwell on the result of a bad one, because you've got the take the ball back and throw it again.  If you have a bad game, there will be another one tomorrow.  If you had a good day, you can't get too excited because the baseball gods might not smile on you tomorrow.

As Jimmy Fallon's character in Fever Pitch*** says (to paraphrase), "Life may kick you in the nuts, but baseball will always be there for you."  Baseball was there during two World Wars. It was there through good and bad economies.  It was there after 9/11 to show America and the world that life goes on. 

And so, with another baseball season over (at least for the Blue Jays), we will wait for the first news from Spring Training, when pitchers and catchers report in the middle of February.  For me, it's what gets me through those cold, short February days.  Nothing says spring is coming more than Spring Training.

The weather will get cold.  The snow will come.  But baseball will be back next year. It always is.

* Good movie, but not really about soccer.  It's about a young British girl of Indian parentage trying to find a middle ground between her dueling identities.  Seriously.  How dramatic is kicking a ball without that subtext.

** In my playing career, I hit one home run (over the fence) in a game situation.  I didn't even feel the contact of the ball on the bat.  It just felt . . . . perfect.

*** Yes, I know that Fever Pitch was based on a book about soccer, which was made into a movie about soccer.  The American version about baseball is better.

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