As the season starts to slip away at an ever increasing pace, the one place I can still find some summer solace is afternoons and evenings on WGN TV. So what if the Cubs are the fourth worst team in baseball? Much like life’s destination is actually the journey itself, the only thing that really matters is that they play the game.
Of course a win is always nice, but not playing baseball at all would be far worse.
Football is alright, but having to watch those genetic freaks hurl themselves at each other at absurd speeds seems silly. Hockey? It’s nothing more than visual caffeine. Basketball is yet another sport where the athletes have long surpassed the game and even though I’ve come to love soccer, I can’t quite get used to the “playing not to lose” mindset.
Those Europeans are a special brand of crazy.
Ah! But baseball is so much more than a game – it’s a shining metaphor for all the vagaries this life so eagerly throws at all of us. Think about it! Sometimes you strike out and sometimes you go yard!
You see, while it’s important to field a decent team if you really want to get anywhere, the game ultimately comes down to a confrontation between two players with diametrically opposing goals. The pitcher wants to get another out and the batter wants to get on base. Nothing else matters until that basic issue is resolved.
Some things are cut and dried. If you amass three separate strikes, you’re heading back to the dugout. Four balls, and first base beckons. Bill Veeck put it perfectly when he said, “If you get three strikes, even the best lawyer in the world can’t get you off.”
Then there are the times when almost anything can happen.
In those aforementioned other sports, whenever a participant comes into possession of the puck or ball, they can either pass or move forward. There’s not a lot of mystery.
But the folks who came up with baseball applied their unique wisdom in a fascinating effort to put the ball squarely in the hands of the defense. So when a batter comes up with a runner on base, the possibilities are almost infinite.
The batter can attempt a sacrifice bunt, he can swing away, he can look for a walk, he can drive a high pitch deep for a sacrifice fly, or he might get the sign for a hit and run.
In anticipation of the runner trying to take second, the catcher might call a pitchout. The pitcher might try to catch the runner napping at first, the outfield might play in with a man on third, or the infield might shift in the face of a consistent pull hitter.
Just like life, there are over 11 million possible plays in just one baseball game.
But despite those myriad of possibilities, the game moves at the kind of leisurely pace that soothes the soul. Unlike football, it doesn’t come at you like a downhill runaway semi, it simply unfolds before you.
And this game is played by real people. Football players are generally the result of a science fiction experiment gone awry, you have to be Canadian to play hockey, and basketball players look like they’ve been stretched at the event horizon of a black hole.
In baseball, you can be short, fat and slow and still excel as long as you can fling or whack that three inch white spheroid. What other sport allows superstars to fail 7 out of 10 times?
But the best thing about our national pastime is there are no time constraints. As long as you keep getting on base, the game goes on. No court in the land can take those three outs away from you.
Like life, baseball produces its share of heroes and goats, phenoms and flops, and often sends its adherents from paroxysms of hope right down to the depths of despair in a span of just nine innings. But fear not dear readers, redemption is only as far away as the next pitch.
“Casey at the Bat” isn’t a poem, it’s a psalm!
When you really think about it, there are very few things you can count on in this ephemeral existence, but rest assured that, tonight at 6 p.m., the TV will be tuned to Channel 9 and I will be sitting back in my most comfortable chair to watch the boys of summer engage in a game that was clearly handed down from the gods.
It doesn’t get much better that.