What is it about baseball that captures our hearts and made it America’s Favorite Pastime?
Every spring is a new beginning—the slate is washed clean. The hopes and dreams of fans overcome last year’s statistics. We want our team to win.
In the late 19th century baseball became the most popular pastime in America. The television and Internet were a long way off. Americans wanted something to do with their free time. People could strike up a conversation with anyone about baseball. Kids played it; it was the national common denominator that everyone could relate to. Since then other sports have become popular with the advent of television. Some polls say football and basketball are more popular now. But when you look at attendance records and the number of games played, baseball still leads the pack.
Why do people like to go to ballgames when you can watch it on television? Is it the call of the Ump—"S-t-e-e-r-i-k-e!" Is it the crack of the bat when it finally connects with the ball? The thrill of watching your team’s players running the bases heading for home plate, or the collective sigh of the hometown crowd as we watch the ball veer at the last second into foul territory? Is it the fresh air, the smell of hot dogs and the call of the vendors that pulls us back to the ballpark? “Get your hot dogs here!”
I know why I loved going to the ballpark. I loved eating peanuts, crushing their shells and throwing them on the ground, the sound of them crunching under my feet. I loved looking up at the tiers of people, the organ playing, people singing and stomping their feet, but my favorite thing was keeping score. My father would buy us both score cards and pencils. I would sit down and hurriedly write the lineup for the game that day, trying to keep up with the announcer and score board. He said it was a great way to stay focused on the game. There was something very organized and neat about it. In the middle of all of the noise and movement on the field I was able to make sense of it all by keeping score.
Oh, and it was in my blood.
How could it not be? The day I was born happened to be the fifth game of the World Series, when Don Larson pitched the only perfect game in MLB postseason and World Series history. (Yes you know my age now.) After my birth during this auspicious occasion, my father went home to eat. He said he would return post haste. After hours elapsed he sheepishly walked in apologizing to my mother, who was not the least bit pleased about my father’s excuses. It was a no-hitter, and not just any no-hitter, it was a perfect game, in the World Series, my father would explain to me when I was older. In a no-hitter a player can still make base by a walk or error for the other team. The rarity of a perfect game is no hits, no walks and no errors. Of course he had to watch the game, what was a fella to do?
“There are three things in my life which I really love: God, my family, and baseball. The only problem – once baseball season starts, I change the order around a bit." —Al Gallagher, 1971
Baseball was in my father’s blood. He played baseball all through his youth on the streets and sand lots of Covington, Ky., just as most kids did in their hometowns across America, back before the electronic age. In the 1930s, a scout for the Cincinnati Reds saw promise in this 6-foot-4 first baseman. Invited to try-outs for the team, he was thrilled to be able to warm up in the outfield with some of the regular players he admired and watched, growing up, from the stands. He later would tell us he was awestruck and didn’t play well, but they still offered him a position on a farm team, which meant life on the road with little pay. His mother was a widow with five children and needed him home. She couldn’t let him sign the contract. He was heartbroken but he stayed to help support the family.
Although his dreams of being a major league baseball player were never realized, he did become the number one fan of the Cincinnati Reds. I recall the era of the Big Red Machine in the '70s. From the stands of Wrigley Field and Reds Stadium, I watched with excitement as Pete Rose (Charlie Hustle) did just that to steal bases, his head first slide, a thing of courage and beauty. I was awed by Johnny Bench and his incredible catches behind the plate that would save the game for the Reds, along with watching other notables of that famous line-up play at their peak. From 1970-1976 the team had more World Series appearances than any other team in that decade. They won two World Series titles and were the only National League team in the last 75 years to win back to back championships. They made it look easy, but it took hard work, practice and a passion for the game.
Throughout my life my father would inevitably answer one of my requests for advice with baseball analogies. “Life is a lot like baseball,” he would begin and follow with some quote.
“There’s no crying in baseball!” —Tom Hanks in A League of their Own
One day, I had just finished a very hard and difficult board meeting and in talking with my father about it, I started to cry a bit. When I stopped, he looked up at me over his paper and said, “Life is a lot like baseball and just like in baseball… there’s no crying in politics!”
These may not be some of my Fathers analogies. But as I read them, I can almost hear his voice. Life is a lot like baseball...
“Things could be worse. Suppose your errors were counted and published every day, like those of a baseball player.” —Author Unknown
“Life will always throw you curves, just keep fouling them off... the right pitch will come, but when it does, be prepared to run the bases.” —Rick Maksian
“Progress always involves risks. You can't steal second base and keep your foot on first.” —Frederick B. Wilcox
When I was young, his sayings used to irk me. But I realize now his baseball analogies were a way he could communicate his advice, without getting personal and emotional, which wasn't his style. I ended up learning some good lessons that way.
Life and baseball, every spring there is renewal, new grass emerges in our yards and on the field, the slate is washed clean, it’s a new season. We have hopes and dreams that this season will be better than the last. We hope we win.
Baseball will always be America’s favorite pastime in my opinion. Where else can you wile away three hours in the outdoors, justify eating hot dogs, popcorn, and peanuts, and washing them down with a nice cold beer. Watch a leisurely game with a ball and learn some life lessons along the way. In this fast paced world we live in, isn’t it nice, for an afternoon to forget everything for 9 innings and be a kid again?
“Don't tell me about the world. Not today. Its springtime and they're knocking baseball around fields where the grass is damp and green in the morning and the kids are trying to hit the curve ball.” —Pete Hamill
What are your favorite memories of baseball? Drop me comment and let me share your thoughts with other Patch readers.