The Lost Elegance of Baseball

Something has been troubling me of late. I’ve been losing my passion for my first true love. No, check that – my first true love was Grandma Mable, my best friend and sounding board, who all but rescued me from dysfunctional parents. Two sentences in, and already I digress.

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I’m speaking of baseball. Baseball from Little League to “The Show,” as insiders call the major league version of America’s pastime. Now, I’m going to make a connection here that many will find arguable: baseball writing mirrors the state of the game itself. Of course, the commonspeak elegance of “Casey at the Bat” knows no contemporary rival, but that’s perhaps an unfair standard to fly, since no one reads poetry any more.

Used to, sports writers were the ones who stayed awake in English composition class – at least long enough to learn a bit about the nuances of the craft before racing home to chase their sandlot dreams. Take for instance this beginning excerpt from Roy Blount, Jr.’s piece, “We All Had a Ball.”

I have a T-shirt and two sweat shirts that say, “I PLAYED AGAINST THE 1969 CUBS.” This intro lets me get on with the rest of the story. “Hello, my name is Blat, Blong, Blough – whatever, it doesn’t matter – and the very fact that Ferguson Jenkins was playing me deep deep enough to catch a ball hit 350 feet tells you something” is how I usually begin.

“Excuse me?” people reply.

“I hit a ball 350 feet,” I reply.

“Where?”

“Pulled it dead to left. It was caught – over the shoulder, but still, he must have been playing me pretty deep – by Ferguson Jenkins.

Notice the writer’s voice. Blount plays the game of writing the way the game itself was still played in ’69 – with a bit of wit and a soupçon of daring. Taking chances. That’s what life was like then, and part of the reason we loved baseball was because we saw the game played out the same way the best participants played the game of life. Wit. Daring. Skill. All tools that seem to have become distorted, if not made effete, by modern life. And, of course, Blount wasted no time in bowing to the myth, the near-mystical nature of our summertime preoccupation.

Now compare that with the piece below – but first a complaint that has little to do with the writing: This by-line is an Internet phenomenon by SPORTS PICKLE a franchise of CHMedia and founded by D.J. Gallow. But is Gallow the writer here? And why the anonymity? To keep from paying some desperate understudy writer his or her due? But again I digress.

Tim Tebow’s professional baseball career is off to a troubling start.

In wordly terms, Tebow’s regular season professional baseball debut couldn’t have gone better. He hit a home run in his first at-bat, silencing even his loudest critics who hate him for his faith and use every incomplete pass or strikeout to attack him and his beliefs.

But when it comes to making a positive impact on the world, Tebow  — who so often makes the right choice — unfortunately fell short. And I don’t mean when he struck out three times later in the game.

The concept of “bases” in baseball has another connotation in the secular world, believe it or not. Now, at this point, if any children or young adults or even adults who have not yet entered into the blessing of marriage are reading, you should turn off your computer.

Adults only now? Okay. Among non-believers, the baseball “bases” have sexual meanings. Sad but true. Like most things in their world, they have corrupted something good, old-fashioned and pure — the great American sport of baseball — with sexual deviancy. In their world, the bases mean the following:

  • First base = kissing someone

  • Second base = touching a woman’s breasts under her shirt

  • Third base = fondling of the genitals

  • Home = the act of intercourse

 

In our modern world personality is god. Unfair? I think not. In Blount’s piece, Ferguson Jenkins is part of a continuum, from the (as yet) unnamed ball-swatter to the baseball itself, to the 350 feet it carried, to Jenkins. The latter puts Tebow on a pedestal that sublimates the game to him, foibles and all. And what’s with the rush to sexual innuendo? Now I’m no prude; I’ve enjoyed my time in the sack playing sheet music with paramours and wives, but admittedly, that preoccupation has a lesser hold on me than it did in my twenties. So. Are we to accept the tacit contention that sex is such an integral part of baseball that its presence needs to be lamented – and in the presence of Tim Tebow, for crying out loud?

So in short form I make my case. Has baseball lost its way, too? The way politics has? The way literature has given to writerly indulgence, underwritten by the cult of personality? The way a bag of dirt or mulch for a home’s flowerbeds must now be bought and paid for?

All of this may be impossible to reverse engineer in this, the twenty-first century, but can I at least have my national pastime back?

 

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