It is a bright, crisp day in Wisconsin today. It is not too hot or too cold, but just right. It is a perfect kind of spring day, the kind of day that is made for the opening of the professional baseball season.
These days there are so many sports competing for attention that for many baseball is ignored. America’s “national pasttime” sometimes seems like it may be past its time. How can it compete against the fast pace of hockey, the spectacular slam dunks of basketball, the violence of football, or the constant motion of the world’s sport, soccer? Yet here it is, every spring, offering renewed hope for fans that this may be the year of the Brewers, the Cubs, or whichever team is followed.
Baseball is not an extreme sport. It offers excitement, but in moments rather than in constant action. Baseball is slow, maybe even ponderous, but that is part of its joy. It is the only major sport that is not played against a clock. The longest major league game ever, one I listened to on the radio at the time, was a 25 inning game between the Milwaukee Brewers and the Chicago White Sox. It lasted just over eight hours, an entire work day. Baseball is played until it is over (excluding a few rare ties, such as the 2002 All-Star game that was called after 11 innings because there were no more relief pitchers left). It takes its time to come to a concluson.
This is one of the things that I love about the game. With the clocks involved in most sports the pressure becomes about playing against the clock, not about playing against the other team. In baseball the competition seems more more pure. It is direct, head-to-head, a star pitcher against a star batter in a battle of wills. A batter who gets a hit is then pitted head-to-head against a star fielder who may make a spectacular catch, or there may be a race of fast legs against a fast arm to see which can get to first base before the other. It is also a game of strategy as much as athleticism. The underdog can win with lesser players if the strategy is executed well.
Because there is no clock time never runs out on hope and that may be a significant key to the sport’s longevity. Every spring brings new hope, but the beginning of any sport season brings new hope. When all the records are 0-0 anyone can believe their team might take it all that year. But in the other major sports when a team is down and there are only seconds left in a game hope can be lost. In baseball hope remains alive every game until the third out in the ninth inning is recorded. I saw a baseball game in high school once where the team was down by a double digit score going into the last inning and tied the game with an incredible string of hits, sending it into extra innings. They then scored one run in the next inning to win the game. In addition to the possibilities of each game, the 162 game season is so long that even if a team falls ten or fifteen games behind early in the season there are months left for them to catch the division leader. Until they are mathematically eliminated hope remains.
Spring days like today bring with them renewal, rebirth, and hope every year, so it is fitting that baseball starts in the early spring. As flowers bud and hibernating animals emerge, as humans awaken from the cold winter, as hope is rekindled while the world comes alive again, there comes a sport that is hopeful, that hearkens back to simpler times when we could take the time to just be. In our electronic hurried and harried world baseball slows us down, makes us take time to just sit back and relax and let the games of baseball and life move at their own pace. It offers the hope of taking the time to get back to our essential selves, and that is a gift. It is time to play ball.