Minute with Meltdown: The Game of Baseball: A Sublime, Callous Reality

Posted on November 9, 2011


By Matt Melton

Baseball became America’s pastime almost immediately from its inception. The game’s greatness shines for several reasons, many of which are obvious. The methodical pace of play between pitcher & catcher, and between hitter & fielder, allows for easy conversation among friends while still being able to focus on the game’s action. The baseball season itself begins in the spring, coinciding with nature’s yearly rejuvenation, and continues through summer when the weather is dry and the days are long enough to play two. The creation of the sport itself is a tale of American folklore, and Americans are wary to trudge on the sagas of their history.

It also doesn’t hurt that certain men named Cobb, Ruth, Mays, Gehrig, Mantle, Musial, Aaron, DiMaggio, and so many others, brought a heroic presence to the lives of millions, through both the best and worst times of our nation’s history. From roaring economic excess to crashing stock markets, there was baseball. From World War to Pleasantville and back to World War again, there was baseball. From radios to broadband, streetcars to subways, and megaphones to smart ones, there was baseball.

Every once in a while, baseball reminds us how glorious the sport is, by giving us a few magnificent weeks of paradise. The drama of this year’s conclusion to the regular season, and four-week run to crown the World Series champion, has renewed my love affair with the game. I admit, it surely helps that my hometown team took center stage during the events of the last few weeks. However, any baseball fan who tells you that this season didn’t give him or her new material to share with future generations, when it’s time to pass on life lessons learned, is lying.

This past season taught us that anything is possible. At a time when our country’s future is as bleak as we ever thought it could be, baseball gave us hope that we can succeed. At a time when Americans seem more distraught with their fellow neighbor than ever before, baseball brought us together in celebration. At a time when external differences become fodder for hate, when disparity and jealousy rule the day, baseball inspired us to focus on teamwork, unity and trust. To paraphrase the adage on the importance of kindergarten: everything you ever need to know, you can learn in a summer of playing baseball.

How many kids in St. Louis will pick up a bat and dream of immortality after seeing hometown hero David Freese resurrect the Cardinals in the World Series? How many kids in Texas will master a fastball after seeing Derek Holland dominate on the hill in Game 5? From city to city, year after year, baseball brings a sublime inspiration to generations of adults, children, and anyone who has the desire to recapture what is good.

With that sublime inspiration, there also comes a callous reality to the game. How else can you describe a sport where the very best hitters fail seven out of every ten times they enter the batter’s box, and where the very best teams leave the park losers at least sixty times during the season? As great as baseball is, it is a sport surrounded, cloaked, and otherwise ensconced in failure.

Failure does bring one thing that success rarely does – a chance for introspection. Unity and trust are wonderful attributes to share with others, but when it comes to developing one’s self, a little humility and modesty can go a long way towards true growth as a person. Baseball gives us that proverbial chance to dust ourselves off, no matter the circumstance or score, and try, try again.

However, there is no rewarding amount of humbleness that can be learned after witnessing the hardships experienced by the kids on the Ugandan Little League team. The Ugandan squad was the first African team to ever qualify for the Little League World Series. That is no small feat, when considering that throughout most of Africa, famine, poverty and death are basic concepts learned well before one ever swings a bat. Like most third-world countries, parents (often illiterate themselves) are not as astute with record keeping, especially when it comes to birth certificates and residency documents. As such, despite what the rules of the game called for, the winners did not move on in the Little League tournament. The United States State Department refused visas for the kids, denying them their chance to succeed – or fail – on the diamond together.

As sublimely inspiring as this baseball season was, remember that there is another side to the game. That callous side can rear its head in several ways – with a swing that misses, with a dive that comes up empty, or as those 11 and 12-year olds from Uganda experienced, with an opportunity earned that is stolen before ever being realized.