It's finally here: Opening Day of the Major League Baseball season.
Although my passion for the game has waned over the years, my memories of it as a young fan are some of my best.
I would spend long summer nights in front of the television with my oldest brother watching the Mets. My middle brother would be off alone in his room as he was the only Yankees fan in the house.
Even now I remember a special feeling watching games. There was a timbre to a baseball game, and to the memories it engendered. The sound of the ball hitting the glove, or of the ball hitting the bat. The rhythm of the game. The excitement of the announcers as the home team got a hit, or scored a run.
American football has always been ritualized violence. Baseball held out the idea that our nation, like its national pastime, was a bucolic place, divorced from the hate and enmity which plagued the rest of the world.
Of course, that was a lie, both for the country and the game. While the state slaughtered the indigenous nations, the game prohibited African Americans from participating on the biggest stage. Baseball in fact mirrored the country, but not in the way it said it did. Both beauty and ugliness existed in equal measure.
And maybe that's why American football doesn't have the mythic status that baseball does. One of my favorite books is Robert Coover's The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop. The central character invents a tabletop baseball game, and it consumes him, until all that exists for him is his creation, reflecting all his hopes and fears. I, too, had my own game which I created, which I corralled my brothers into playing with me. (I never felt secure enough to show it to my friends.) Baseball has that effect on you; much like cricket in England, other, more flashy sports have arrived to capture the public. But baseball remains the foundation of American sporting legend, the yardstick by which myths are measured.
All sport is mired in politics, and to pretend otherwise is foolish. Baseball players don't take the knee; obviously because baseball consists mostly of white players and foreign imports. The level of African American participation in baseball has been on a downward trend since the 1980s, as basketball and football are the avenues by which talented black athletes seek to make their names and fortunes. (If you look at baseball's parent game, cricket, the same applies for England.) Baseball is thus, oddly, bifurcated: an idyll of a white America which no longer exists, married with the immigrant nation we have become.
I won't obsessively follow the Dodgers. I won't rush home after work to put on the game. But, from time to time over the next few months, I'll tune in, and have it on as background music while I do this or that, and remember the sound of a ball hitting a glove, of Phil Rizzuto screaming "Holy cow", of summers spent with friends on the street playing stickball, then running home to catch the Mets or the Yankees. All memory is fiction which allows us to face the future. There are worse things in life.
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