Whenever people talk about their favorite sports these days, you often hear football. Sometimes basketball. Soccer’s popularity is growing in the United States. Rarely do you hear baseball anymore. But baseball was my first love, and I have a suspicion it always will be my truest love.
I understand why football is popular. I like the action (although studies show that there’s only 11 minutes—out of 3+ hours—of actual “play” during an NFL game. The rest is spent calling plays, lining up players, attending to injuries, and watching replays). I also like the pace of basketball games. College basketball is just over two hours. That’s way better than 4-hour college football games.
I also understand why people criticize baseball. There’s probably too much standing around, spitting, and cup adjustments for the average sports fan. But baseball has always been about more than just the game. Baseball is art. And more importantly, baseball is a time machine.
James Earl Jones says it best in Field of Dreams:
They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past … They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they’ll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces … The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again.
Not everyone has the same childhood, of course, but mine consisted of Knothole baseball games at Aicholtz Field in Cincinnati. It consisted of watching afternoon Cubs games on WGN after getting home from school. Of driving downtown with my dad to watch Pete Rose, Tony Perez, Dave Parker, and Eric Davis play at Riverfront Stadium. My favorite number is still 5 because that was Johnny Bench’s number. And my number for the Mt. Carmel Fireballs.
My childhood consisted of playing whiffleball against my brother in our front yard. Of sneaking the radio into my room after bedtime to listen to Marty Brennaman and Joe Nuxhall call Reds-Dodgers games. Of collecting baseball cards and chewing the rock-hard sticks of bubble gum like it was my job.
Today is Opening Day in Cincinnati. No city on Earth celebrates the beginning of a new baseball season like the Queen City. The Reds were the first professional baseball team, and 5 World Series titles later, we’re still one of the best franchises in history (only 6 teams have more championships). There will be a parade. There will be hundreds of thousands of fans downtown. There will be hot dogs and beers. Sooooo many beers.
And it all brings back wonderful memories. Memories of a better life, when there wasn’t so much to do. So many responsibilities. So many heartbreaks. It all just seemed better back then.
If you don’t get it, that’s okay. Lots of people don’t. I don’t get soccer or the Kardashians, but it’s okay if you do.
I wonder how much of life is like this. People not getting the things that make other people’s hearts sing, so instead of trying to understand (or quietly going about their day), they mock. They ridicule. They don’t understand, so they destroy. I wonder if we’d all get along a little better if we took the time to hear the melodies of one another’s singing hearts.
Oh, and Go Reds!
Photo (Flickr CC) by 5chw4r7z