Baseballness

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My favorite sport is baseball.

I’ve lost many readers with that opening sentence. Baseball is not even in the top five of the most popular sports in America. Despite this, I press on with this column. (Apologies to Bill Horner III and the staff at the Chatham News + Record who are trying to sell newspapers.)

Sportswriter Jason Gay still lauded “the very baseballness” of the sport. What makes the game unique and valuable, even if it is no longer America’s favorite pastime?

Even with the new rules that establish pitching and batting clocks, baseball does not have periods, quarters or halves like other sports. Every inning is over when three outs are recorded, no matter how long it takes. This drives some people to change the channel. Our culture likes things fast-paced, high-speed and on-demand.

But timelessness is part of this sport’s charm. It’s also countercultural. So much of my life runs on a tight schedule. Baseball offers a different perspective: We have as much time as it takes.

Maybe the new rule that times each visit to the pitching mound is a good thing. (There’s that scene in the famous baseball movie “Bull Durham” in which players call timeout to discuss wedding gifts.)

But part of “baseballness,” since not every moment is action-packed, calls for side conversations. During games I find that I drift back in time, reminiscing with my father or brother about games in the past. Or I explain certain details of the sport to my children, soaking in the moments with them.

The fun is that we lose track of time.

Sitting in the ballpark bleachers, my young kids are distracted by things like pigeons and peanut shells. They devote more attention to their cotton candy than my detailed explanation of the infield fly rule. There’s a lesson there as well.

Gay maintains, “(Baseball) is an old game that enforces humility, and that might be the best thing about it.”

A strikeout in the next at-bat after a home run reminds us of the ancient dictum that pride goes before the fall. Just as the best hitters fail seven out of every 10 times, some of my efforts to teach my children are a swing and a miss. Parenting, as in baseball, can teach you to make a serious effort yet not take yourself too seriously.

Like losing track of time, such humility is also countercultural. Whether athlete, entertainer or politician, a genuinely humble public figure is about as rare as a no-hitter. To be fair, there are also arrogant baseball players.

But, though every batter steps to the plate as an individual, baseball is a team game. No player wins all by himself.

Perhaps that humble attitude of teamwork is even less popular in our culture than the grand old game itself, and more needed than a left-handed pitcher who throws strikes. Our cultural obsessions with efficiency, entertainment and individualism are not the cures for what ails us. Bravado rings hollow; cockiness is a joyless tune.

But a certain sport could be celebrated and sung — take me out to the ballgame!

Andrew Taylor-Troutman is the pastor of Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian Church. His newly-published book is a collection of his columns for the Chatham News + Record titled “Hope Matters: Churchless Sermons.”

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