I have noticed on different blogs recently that individuals often make statements such as, “I can’t wait until Spring Training,” or as kids often ask, “Are we there yet?” Another familiar refrain is, “Is it February yet?” Those and other such questions just reinforce the kid in us, but also reveal a much greater question. What is it about the game of baseball that allows it to take over a part, sometimes a significant part, of our lives? Perhaps, to phrase it more appropriately, what is it about the game that allows it to provide so much enjoyment in our lives and to actually add to our well being in a number of ways, physically, socially, emotionally?
During the regular season and play-offs it is quite understandable that passionate baseball fans would be a bit preoccupied with the game. Not including Spring Training games and post season games, the regular season is comprised of almost 2,500 games. On a given day as many as 750 players are involved in the games. The air waves are filled with games available for our viewing, reports of games, and a variety of other game-related reporting spots. Millions attend games at no small cost in terms of time and money.
Then the off-season arrives and passionate baseball fans suffer from withdrawal symptoms. They try to deal with the shock of no MLB by following the AFL games, the Winter Meetings, check MLB Trade Rumors daily, perhaps even hourly, look for information from the Winter Leagues in the Caribbean, follow blogs, collect cards, read books, anything to stay connected to the game.
Again I ask – what is it about this game that stirs up a passion that few other things in life can stir up, even during the season without baseball? Certainly we are passionate about our family and friends, our faith, our country, perhaps our work, yet baseball shares that passion equally and probably with a disproportionate amount of time. It is not unusual for baseball fans to be so passionate about their team that it becomes part of their identity and the team’s activities become part of their well-being. Psychology research has shown that fan identity with a sports team can be as strong as their identity with their nationality, ethnicity, even gender. Team loyalty is inexplicably strong. How else could we explain why there are so many Cub fans during the past 100 years?
Part of the answer may be the uniqueness of the game itself. It is a simple, yet complicated game – simple with a bat, a ball, 3 bases and home plate. It is a game that most everyone has played at some point in their life – on a diamond, in a field, on a vacant lot, boys and often girls, even though we might have been put in right field. It is a complicated game but not restrained by a time clock as in hockey, soccer, basketball, and football. It is a game of endless possibilities, always with something we have never seen before. It is a game not restrained by time but often a game of milliseconds and fractions of inches. In other team sports players must act as a unit in order to score.
In baseball, players play as a unit but there are individual games going on within the game, psychological as well as physical, somewhat like a chess match with pieces working as a unit but individual pieces also playing a singular part, a gambit perhaps, or individual pieces being sacrificed or traded to gain an advantage. Perhaps the attraction is because baseball is the most difficult of all team sports to play. Hitting a round ball, traveling at 90 mph from sixty feet away, with a round bat, is almost an impossible task. A success rate of 30% is exceptional.
Perhaps it is the baseball schedule that traps us as it is played every day for six months, not once or twice a week. Baseball, of all sports, I believe, best emulates our daily trek. It is filled with rewards, disappointments, challenges, hopes, dreams, a new day tomorrow, not next Sunday. It is a constant in our lives, stability where so many other facets of life are unstable or in a state of flux: social change, economics, relationships, even weather. During disasters, baseball still goes on as it has for over 125 years, helping those to escape the pain caused by the disaster.
For me the world of baseball is simply the other world in which I live. When a baseball game is in progress, or even when I am sorting and recording baseball cards, nothing else in the world matters. At that point there is no other world. Even in a crowd, all that matters is the game. Well, perhaps a Dodger Dog is on the minds of many during the game, but that too is a part of the game and a meal to be found nowhere else. During that game, I play also in my head and heart. I am a player, a manager, at times with knots in my stomach, trying to figure what to do next, questioning why a certain decision was made. It truly is another world into which no one else can enter.
I recently found a story that was so very interesting that it made me think about the game of baseball and how it plays such a significant role in our lives. I really am not sure how the game can take hold of us as it does. Perhaps we are like Ponce de Leon, searching for the fountain of youth. Perhaps we too are searching for that fountain and baseball may be the source. This post was prompted by Reggie Deal:
From his seat in an upper-reserved section of Rangers Ballpark on Sunday night, Reggie Deal couldn’t see the ball game the Rangers and Rays were playing. But he could hear it, he could smell it, he could sense it. For Deal, baseball provides a pull that goes beyond the boundaries of the blindness he’s been inflicted with virtually all of his 39 years. Baseball is his passion, if not his outright obsession.
Reggie, a blind man for most of his life, visited all 30 MLB parks in 30 days. Imagine that. Reggie cannot see the game but he can hear the game, smell the game, and feel the game, just as Clint Eastwood could hear it in Trouble with the Curve. That too is an allure of the game, not just the sights of the game, but the sound of the crack of the bat, the ball hitting the glove, the umpire’s call, the fans cheering. What greater smell than the aroma of a brand new leather glove?
Is it February yet?