America’s Game

Baseball is a game obsessed with the number nine: nine players on each team; nine innings; ninety feet between the bases; and if you’re a pitcher with “stuff,” three strikes against three batters total nine and you’re out of the inning.

Think of the players that wore the number 9: Roger Maris, Bill Mazeroski, Minnie Minoso, Enos Slaughter, Reggie Jackson and, of course, Ted Williams. (Roy Hobbs, if you count the fictional baseball slugger from The Natural.)

Contrary to conventional wisdom, baseball is not America’s pastime. Baseball is America. It’s also America’s great morality play.

Baseball is about preparation – whether it’s defense or offense, you’ve got to get out there and work every day to perfect your timing, running, swing, pitch, catch. No matter what, you’ve got to keep your eye on the ball at all times.

Baseball is about hard work. If you don’t work hard, you don’t succeed. It’s that simple. If you do work hard, catch some breaks, you can rise to the top.

Most of all, Baseball is about teamwork. Individual success is significant, but only in the context of the team. Boston slugger Ted Williams, arguably considered to have been the best hitter in the game, but Boston never won a single World Championship during his tenure. If the team doesn’t execute when needed, it doesn’t matter. Joe DiMaggio, great hitter, andhad the entire Yankee team behind him.

Fenway Park, built in 1910, home to the Boston Red Sox, is the oldest of baseball parks. When I walk through that tunnel in right field, I’m walking into one of the oldest cathedrals to morality. Baseball is about playing by the rules and when you don’t and get caught, you can be thrown out of the game or worse, you can be banned for life.

Baseball is about honesty. If you’re a baseball player and get caught betting on your own team, you’re out of Baseball, period. Get caught using steroids, worse. (Okay, the game does allow for “stealing” a base, even home… but only if you’re fast.)

Baseball is about fairness. There are four umpires in a Major League game, six, in the playoffs. They’re independent, don’t belong to or aligned with any team. I’m sure they have their favorites, but when it comes to the call, their integrity demands that they make the right call without fear or favor. And when they make mistakes, the good ones own up to it, apologize and move on.

Baseball is about tolerance. For decades, teams were composed of all white players.  April 15, 1947 changed all that when Jack Roosevelt Robinson took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Baseball may be slow to change, like America, but it doeschange.

Baseball is about responsibility. Every player is responsible to contribute to the best interests of the team. Boston’s David “Big Papi” Ortiz can knock a two run homer into the bullpen in right field, but if he doesn’t have the rest of the team behind him on defense, the Sox can still lose the game.

Baseball is also about self-restraint, sacrificing your own interests for the team – the sac bunt, sac fly.

Baseball is about striving for excellence, understanding that no matter who you are or how much talent you have, perfection is rarely achieved. But when it is, it is a thing of beauty. Detroit pitcher Armando Galarraga had it last month when he stood on the verge of a perfect game only to fall victim to a poor call by Umpire Jim Joyce.

And what was the young Detroit pitcher’s response?  He smiled, didn’t argue with the umpire, accepted it with grace.

Joyce’s response?  After the game, after he discovered he’d made a bad call, he apologized to the young pitcher.

Galarraga’s response?  “Nobody’s perfect.”

I’ll never forget the time I hit a grand slam homerun (softball). It felt effortless. The ball sailed over the left fielder’s head before I’d even finished the swing. Then there was the time I hit three pitches off Orioles knuckler Johnny “Mack-the-Knife” McCarthy.  Now, maybe they were only traveling 50 mph (if that) and maybe I knew they were coming, but still… I beat him up bad that day.

Baseball is about success, failure, and redemption.

Baseball is America – the good, the bad, the loud, the silent, the proud, the profane, the elegant, and occasionally, the perfect.  And at the end of the day, no matter whether you win or lose, you go home, rest up and show up tomorrow for another chance to be better.

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