It would seem downright un-American not to note the opening of baseball season. Even in the face of evidence that the NFL has overtaken baseball as the nation’s favorite athletic theater; that the NBA has (literally) soared to new heights; that soccer has shouldered its way solidly into our sports culture; that doping stars have revealed a contemptible underbelly in all competitive sports….baseball hangs in there.
It can be argued that baseball has become over-romanticized and soaked in nostalgia even as the modern game is riddled with maddening statistical over-analysis and Major League ballparks regularly bludgeon fans with artificial noise incompatible with the game’s pastoral roots.
As a barometer of where The American Pastime stands in the 21st Century, at least half of the students each semester in my Hofstra sportswriting class typically confess to having little interest in baseball.
And yet, baseball is unquestionably in our DNA. A strong magnet to some, possibly just white noise to most, but always there through the long season from April into November.
Maybe it’s the eloquence of professional observers such as Los Angeles Dodgers announcer Vince Scully, with gems of narrative detail such as this call of the ninth inning of Sandy Koufax’s 1965 perfect game, that demonstrate our connection to baseball:
Or Roger Angell’s description, upon being awarded the Hall of Fame writers’ award last summer, that baseball “has turned out to be so familiar and so startling, so spacious and so exacting, and so easy looking and so heartbreakingly difficult that if filled my notebooks in a rush.”
Consider that American slang is loaded with baseball language. A ballpark figure. Batting 1.000. Grand slam. Out of left field. Step up to the plate. Ruthian. And that American popular culture is littered with baseball references. When Philip Roth tweaked the ongoing search for the “great American novel,” that theoretically perfect crystallization of the country’s spirit and identity, by calling his 1973 book “The Great American Novel,” he made it about baseball.
Baseball provided the backdrop for one of the great advances in civil rights: Jackie Robinson.
Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First?”—sometimes called the best comic routine of all time—of course is baseball shtick:
Through his creator Charles Schulz, the inimitable Charlie Brown once said, “A hot dog is better with a baseball game in front of it.”
So, play ball. And sing along: