Thursday, April 9, 2015

Where Have You Gone Abner Doubleday?

Simon and Garfunkel laid the icon, Joe DiMaggio, to rest almost fifty years ago. Baseball has since become too yesterday, so it is said. It’s an artifact of another time having disappeared with pastoral America; the equivalent of a dial telephone or sticky keys on a typewriter. A slow yawn for those uninitiated in the sport.

The new pastimes are basketball and football. Both games played against the clock as if time itself is the opposition. Hoops are scored in fractions of seconds. The game is hot jazz turned Hip-Hop turned Rap. It’s a car-chase in city traffic played with swagger and trash-talk. 

Football is chess with stretchers. Where coaches see strategy; we see bodies concussed and stacked while growing fangs ourselves on the couch.

Basketball was invented at the moment when the blocked writer threw his aborted page into the waste-paper basket across the room. Football came out of trench warfare when armies gained and lost territory as if inches mattered. Baseball was David aiming at Goliath’s eye. It goes back to the caveman who deflected the stone with a tree branch or swatted flies.

Baseball is no longer an urban sport. We use to play in the street with a manhole cover as home plate, a fire hydrant as 1st,  2nd was a manhole cover and a sycamore tree served as 3rd. A swiped and sawed-off broomstick was our bat. We would curse the occasional car. I don’t see this sort of kid’s neighborhood drama unfolding anymore; a great loss in the American landscape.

Baseball is stoic and square; it runs counter-clockwise from first to home where it all began. Ulysses makes his trek back to Penelope. We go from infancy to our second childhood, some of us back in diapers. Take your time. Enjoy the intervals, the green grass, vapors of beer and mustard, crowd noise and Chuck Easy, Baby.

The average baseball game is an hour longer today than 60 years ago. There are many reasons for the elongation. Owners have added field seats which result in more un-catchable foul balls. Pitching has become more specialized with a starter, set-up man, middle reliever and closer. Each pitching change requires a long jog in from the distant bullpen. Batters perform rituals, stepping out of the batter’s box to knock dirt (that isn’t there) from their cleats or fiddle with their Velcro gloves. Don’t you love it? I do.

Offense, seems to have been diminished which also turns fans away. They love home runs. Ironically it may be the speed of the fast ball that has over-matched the hitters. Pitchers now routinely throw over 95 mph. As a result the strike zone may be tinkered with in favor of the batters to boost the attendance.

Baseball has been subverted to analytics. It's become one teams algorithms to the other printouts based upon probability. Too cerebral for my pea brain. Much has been lost in terms of hunches and gut feelings, but still......

For the real fan a lot is happening between pitches. The wind has shifted. Signs are being flashed. There is stirring on the bench. The umpire is anticipating the next eventuality.

After battling traffic to get to the stadium one needs to relax and enjoy the spectacle unfolding in its linear-sequential way, admiring the God-given dimensions of the infield with its pre-ordained 60 feet, 6 inches from pitcher to plate and 90 feet between bases. Only Euclid could have passed that down.  And all this geometric perfection contrasts with the unspecified measurements in the outfield.

I say, leave it alone. One must vacate the fast lane to get to the off-ramp. We need baseball as a corrective. Doctor’s orders. 

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