Opening Day: American Baseball, Democracy's Sport

Opening Day: American Baseball, Democracy's Sport
Finland's national pastime involves sweating in a hot wooden house. Shhhh! Don't tell Finland that baking in a sauna is not a sport. (photo: VisitFinland.com)

It's no wonder that baseball is America's national pastime. If you think America is a land of opportunity then the game of baseball explains a lot about who we are and how we pass time.

Come to think of it, baseball also should be the national pastime of Canada, all of Western Europe, France especially, and all of free world. The game corresponds to our needs as free people, our way of life and everything to which we aspire. To me it's as though baseball was designed precisely by our Founding Fathers, or at least by seasoned politicians with good intentions, as benevolent propaganda with a leather-string ball. Regardless of what your favorite sport is, baseball does seem to represent much of what we value.

All are created equal
Baseball requires you to be neither tall nor fast, nor supremely fit. If you hit well, throw well, or have other skills, nobody cares if you're a natural athlete. Running is involved, but only so much.

Pedigree might work for thoroughbreds, but it doesn't hold a dime's value in baseball. The fact that many of today's best baseball players have come from poor countries is also an aspect of the game that points to the game's American idealism. For the last three decades many of the game's best hitters come from places like the Dominican Republic and Cuba, while other players recently have come from Japan, Mexico, and even Germany, where baseball isn't very big.

Ultimately, all that matters is that you can field, throw and hit, and you don't even need to be good looking to play baseball. Just look at Babe Ruth.

Everyone gets their turn.
In football, only the chosen few like quarterbacks and receivers get quality ball time without stealing it. But in baseball, you get your share. Everyone gets an at-bat.

To sweeten the deal, everyone gets several chances. Like cats, you have nine lives with nine innings to play for. You may not get to bat in each, but you'll get a few chances at least. If you can't hit the ball in nine innings, you can probably try again tomorrow. After all, there are 162 games in a single MLB season for the pros to make their mark.

Baseball's promotes social prosperity
In America, we get involved in baseball as a social activity. Little kids play t-ball, and we adults, with our spare tires play "slow pitch softball" or "baseball for crusty old people".

With increasing comfort, you can ease into a lifelong pursuit in this pastime if you so choose. No matter your skill (or lack thereof) you can enjoy the game for fun. Other sports aren't so kind to the beginner or amateur. With hockey, you need to learn to skate first. And in boxing you need to be tough enough to get punched in the face repeatedly (and I doubt you're up for that). Plus, there's no slow pitch version of boxing.

Everyone has their own space
In basketball, positions have certain functions that are predicated on size and speed. Your center is the big guy, and your point guard is your most agile ball handler. In rugby, positions are an absolute joke. Same with golf.

But in baseball you get not just a title but your get your own territory, and your own room to move. If you play Centerfield, then Centerfield is all yours.

This just goes to show that even when playing a game, free people like to snatch our space, call it our own, trying to make something of it. And we love this part of the game.

Free speech
In baseball, talk it up all you want. Feel free to talk dirt about the batter to distract him. Try that in basketball, you'll get a technical foul. In soccer, what you say might get you head butted in the chest (see World Cup '06). But to get thrown out in baseball requires the extreme. You have to yell, spit or kick dirt at the umpire (see the late Billy Martin).

Happy endings
One example of the good old happy ending can be found in the current World Champion Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox who, thanks to the Curse of the Bambino, hadn't won a World Series since before trading Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees in 1920, spent 80 years of living in the shadow of the Yankees. That span included blowing it during the 1986 World Series against the Mets, but with good management and a lot of heart the Red Sox eventually got their act together.

In 2004 the Red Sox faced the Yankees in the American League Championship Series. Down three games to zero, the Red Sox stormed back by winning one game at a time, to beat the Yankees and head back to the World Series. In the '04 Series, the Red Sox kept their momentum, sweeping the St Louis Cardinals in four game and crushing the Curse. They also went on to win again in 2007 and 2013, and have become an institution in Major League Baseball.

International roots
Baseball is also more than just a game. It is the American expression of philosophical sensibilities we got elsewhere. The French actually invented the liberté, fraternité, egalité that our US Constitution was founded upon. Sorry to say, we stole it all from the French. But at least we did some good things with what we borrowed.

But let's give the French a little bit of a break. So they have an attitude problem and don't play baseball. But I bet they've got a good swinging arm thanks to those baguette thingies they're always carrying around. They might some day warm up to swinging a bat.

India, formerly a pseudo-socialist country that doesn't know baseball, is crazy about cricket. Cricket is a sort of tedious, bureaucratic version of baseball with silly hats, in which matches go on sometimes for three days. Just don't blame the Indians for their national pastime. You can blame the British and their 17th Century pastime, colonialism, for that.

 

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The French will stick with their national past time: baguettes, wearing berets, smoking.

And Finland's national past time is the sauna. Just don't tell them that "sauna" is not really a sport.

Sure you can't force democracy or baseball on the world, but maybe by throwing the ball around and having a little fun, we can show the world on of the many things America got right.

When you come right down to it, all we need is a chance to play and maybe just a little bit of personal space. People everywhere, not just here, basically want the same things. And for that, baseball is one game that gives you all you need.


Andy Frye writes about other pastimes like music, skydiving and roller derby for ESPN.com. Follow on Twitter at @MySportsComplex.

Filed under: Baseball, Humor, Politics

Tags: #OpeningDay

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