While all newcomers to the game can appreciate the spectacle of the home run hit or the daring athleticism of the base steal, none who are uninitiated in the finer details of the game can see the honed beauty in the cut fastball Rivera throws in the bottom of the ninth.
There is much to take in at first, with stats and percentages coming from all angles -- before, during and after games. In many ways it is a game of numbers, of cold hard data pored over as each player’s batting average, OBP, ERA and RBI percentage are examined for clues as to a man’s true worth.
However, the objective is soon overtaken by the subjective, as the emotional elements of sport fandom soon take root.
On the surface, it is a game that draws us in with the skill of the leadoff hitter, the pace of the base stealer, the power of the cleanup hitter, the mercurial talents of the pitcher, the understated leadership of the catcher. However, it is at once intertwined with the discourse of the magic of the old ballpark, the tales of men of years gone by achieving feats of excellence beyond the grasp of all but the very few, the glory of the perfect game and the walk off home run, the inexplicable and the once inconceivable, played out on the diamond and in the outfield.
It is the sport of the construction worker in a bar in the Bronx and of The New Yorker columnist, the balance of the visceral and the cerebral finely tuned.
I feel, more than any other sport, that baseball has offered me a glimpse into the true America. It is America’s pastime, and a window into America’s soul.
One of my fondest baseball memories to date is my first visit to MCU Park in Coney Island to watch the Brooklyn Cyclones play. I have been to both Yankee Stadium and Citi Field, and yet somehow this small Single A ballpark felt somehow more “American” than the two big league parks I had visited.
The ballpark in itself is an attraction, the manicured perfection of the untouched infield before the first pitch is thrown and the calm, vastness of the deep green outfield. The center fielder isolated on the vast grass of the outfield – behind him nothing but the dark night sky. The low rent advertisements for small, local businesses, the intimacy of the crowd and the players with nobody ____________
The ball player, the flag, the warm summer evening, the slow, measured pace of the game matching the calm environs in which it is undertaken -- images of America I had seen many times, but was never familiar with. This to me was the storied American summer’s evening, told in literature, film and television and from generation to generation.
It seems to me now, a couple of months into my baseball education, that what I have learned is not merely a new sport, its rules and how it is best played by those most able. Rather, I have learned about a nation and a city. I have seen a side to the U.S. that does not immediately put itself on display to outsiders, surely to its own detriment.
What we don’t see at home in Ireland is the perseverance over years of failure of the fans of the Red Sox, the Phillies and the Cubs, or the way in which the Yankees and Mets seem at times to be the embodiment of New York City, the beating heart of a chaotic mass of eight million people.
We don’t see the minor leagues, which seem to speak to us from a different age where journeymen would move from team to team, riding the bus just to play ball for enough dollars to survive.
It is by no means perfect, and while clubs such as the Yankees are a symbol of the people of their city they are still a massive corporate entity -- the extortionate cost of attending a game is hardly a tactic anyone could consider inclusive of those fans on a limited budget.
Baseball is a money hungry giant as much as any other sport, tainted by greed and exploitation of fans’ deep lying love for the game. There are also the steroid scandals of the past, and suspicions of their continued use at present.
However, even with these failings baseball appears to me to be the American sport most rooted in the traditions of ages past, the game which holds the tightest grip on the American psyche.
I feel that above all else the greatest gift which baseball has given me is a view of the true America. A beautifully intricate game, which has engendered a deep and proud sporting history where tradition and tales of former greats are never far from a fan’s thought.