Tuesday, April 6, 2010

It Happens Every Spring

Passover has passed, taxes not quite due and the voice of the turtle can be heard throughout the land ...along with the crack of the bat. Play ball.

Obama threw out the first ball yesterday. It was high and wide. He didn't want to bounce it to home plate like some past presidents. The custom started with William Howard Taft who would have made a better fullback. Obama is arguably our most athletic chef executive and even he had some trouble.

Nothing about baseball comes naturally. I would have to train for a month before I felt comfortable throwing overhand those 20 yards. Yet batters are expected to hit a ball, the size of an apple with a branch, traveling 50% faster than a car going at the speed limit. It’s like hitting a marble with a backscratcher and not just making contact but hitting it where they ain't.

It's all about eye-hand coordination, bat speed, powerful wrists, picking up sight of the ball in a nanosecond and making adjustments as it is coming at you. I would have to start my swing before the ball leaves the pitcher's hand.

The great Ted Williams had eyes that could count the stitches on a fastball. Some said he could spot the pitcher's fingerprints. He saw what we were not meant to see. The way Mozart heard music of the spheres he could reverse the sphere, launch planetary bodies and baseballs into new orbits and reconfigure the night sky.

When DiMaggio swung it was poetry, even if he missed. So Greco-Roman was his body he seemed to be yearning for marble. As a kid I imagined myself, broomstick in hand, sending that tennis ball over the fence even if it came at me faster than a bright idea. The moment of contact has never left me; that conjunction of wood meeting hurled object; the trajectory of an extended arm colliding with life itself. You strike the dark air and listen for a sound that could be music.

Baseball seems to be the game of choice for intellectuals. Its symmetry, stats, dimensions and pace all appeal to the literary set. Yet many of these voices have, in recent years, turned against the sport as if they've been betrayed. They cite the tarnished image steroids have left along with the usual charges of baseball's degradation by spoiled player millionaires and greedy owner billionaires, or do I have that backwards?

I don't want to hear any of this. My interest in baseball is extra-rational and therefore beyond all analysis and critical judgment. It exists in some precinct of my mind not subject to scrutiny. I go into the same zone of non-thinking that a hitter enters when he steps into the batter's box, knocks dirt that isn't there from his cleats, fiddles with the Velcro of his batting glove, then spits and scratches just to allow his muscle memory to take over from his brain. I always runs the risk of not having a return ticket but it's worth it the trip.

As for the statistics one must study the game assiduously in a monastic cell and then un-learn almost everything. Hunches are our delight, as five out of four fans will tell you ...when they work. Otherwise we live by the numbers and curse the manager for not playing by the book. So I go slumming in this underworld of inarticulate jocks, handicapped by early adoration and managers who live by the seat of their pants. My rational side goes on sabbatical until October.

Baseball, as some ancient sage remarked, is what makes life coherent. I've always subscribed to eternal verities.


  1. Brilliantly put forth and if I were not a baseballoholic already
    your words would make me want someone to take me out to the ballgame.

  2. Thanks, I've always admired your opinion except when you disagree with me.


  3. I attended my first ever opening day game in Cincinnati on Monday, April 5th and I saw the Cardinals wallop the Reds 11 to 6. When I was a kid, the Reds always played the first game of the season. Now they let everybody in including the Yankees.

    The Reds manager made a classic blunder in the top of the 9th. The Cardinals were leading 7 to 4. There were runners on second and third. The manager chose to walk the batter in order to pitch to Molina, the weak hitting Cardinal catcher. Molina hit a grand slam and the Reds fans headed for the exits.

  4. As for Obama, did you see the March Madness basket ball game between Butler and Michigan State? At half-time they showed Obama playing horse with a pro-basketball player/announcer. And Obama won. Actually they played POTUS instead of horse.

    And Butler, a true underdog, almost won the whole enchilada.

  5. I wish I'd seen Obama shoot. It's the one thing the Repugnant Party can't lie about.

  6. Here is a link to the video of him playing basketball.