Take Me Out to the Ballgame

It's no secret that I'm mad at major league baseball.  

At the heart of my anger at the national pastime lies the 1994 strike, for which I never forgave the game I grew to love as a boy.  My fury is fueled by the shabby treatment shown to Pete Rose and, most especially, the rampant abuse of all forms of drugs, from cocaine to steroids.  

As a father, however, I want to be able to share with my son the same experiences at the ballpark that my father was able to share with me when I was young.  I asked for assistance in my efforts to reconcile my responsibilities as a father with my revulsion as a fan and I received many thoughtful replies from fellow webloggers and regular readers.  While I did not agree with everything that was said in response to my request, and while I was even aggravated by some of it, I appreciated all of it, as it helped me to channel my mixed emotions about baseball in the direction of a resolution.  

I am a firm believer in the familial aspects of athletics and a staunch supporter of tradition, in sports as in the rest of life.  These attributes are what drew me to baseball long before I began following college football; the pace of baseball is more conducive to interaction between spectators than that of any other sport, which makes it particularly well suited to father-son outings.  

Tradition, of course, is one of the national pastime's strong suits, as well . . . which is why fans like me had---have---such a hard time forgiving the owners and the players for allowing the World Series to be cancelled a dozen years ago.  It is why fans like me are disgusted by home run records produced by sluggers such as Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds, who used performance-enhancing substances that enabled them to shatter by artificial means the high water marks set by players like Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle, whose heroic feats were accomplished despite the influence of performance-inhibiting substances.  

At my first baseball game, my father pointed to the pitcher's mound and told me, "I saw Sandy Koufax pitch."  I find it troubling to know that, if I want to take Thomas to the ballpark and tell him, "I saw Greg Maddux pitch," I will be pointing at a parking lot when I say it.  Nevertheless, times change, even in baseball, as is attested to by the fact that the Boston Braves became the Milwaukee Braves before becoming the Atlanta Braves.  It wasn't so very long ago at all that baseball fans considered it laughable to put major league teams in the Deep South, where purportedly it was too hot to play the game.  

The tradition is still there, even if you have to squint to see it.  In his book Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball, George Will quotes Oakland A's owner Charles Finley as having remarked, "The day Custer lost at Little Bighorn, the Chicago White Sox beat the Cincinnati Red Legs, 3-2."  Once you get past all the distractions of Turner Field, there is the simple fact that, at the heart of it all, a baseball game is being played.  

My cynicism regarding the national pastime has served me well over the last decade.  I have greeted each postseason with the grim certitude of failure while all about me have proclaimed this to be the year.  Where the Braves are concerned, I have been right for 11 years . . . and counting.  

Last fall, I attended a family gathering at a relative's house and the fourth game of Atlanta's divisional playoff series against Houston was on in the background.  The Braves held a 5-1 lead in the fifth inning, but, when the Astros began to come back, the other sports fans in attendance became anxious.  I reassured them that Atlanta would not lose the fourth game of a five-game series, because that would rob them of the opportunity to dash their fans' hopes by losing the fifth game of a five-game series.  (In a way, I was right . . . Houston won the fourth game, but it took them 18 innings to do it, so the two teams played the equivalent of a double-header.)  

At that gathering, I was asked why I was so negative towards major league baseball and I offered the explanation I have offered here at Dawg Sports.  On a personal level, I feel that I was lied to and let down by baseball; on a more symbolic level, I share the view expressed by Donald Kagan, a Yale historian and classicist, in The Public Interest, in which he cited the literary scholar, Yale president, and baseball commissioner Bart Giamatti:  

Giamatti regarded baseball as a kind of Homeric Odyssey.  The batter is its hero.  He begins at home, but his mission is to venture away from it, encountering various unforeseeable dangers.  At each station opponents scheme to put him out by strength or skill or guile.  Should they succeed, he dies on the bases, defeated.  If his own heroic talents are superior, however, he completes the circuit and returns victorious to home, there to be greeted with joy by the friends he left behind.  But Giamatti knew the Iliad, too, and as a longtime Red Sox fan he believed that the tragic epic best corresponded to baseball; thus he observed that the game "was meant to break your heart."

Giamatti was right:  baseball, which begins amid the renewal of life in the springtime and ends with the withering of nature in the autumn, is meant to break your heart and, in its tragic fashion, it broke mine.  

As a Red Sox fan, Giamatti knew the heartbreak of baseball better than most, but he didn't live to see the Curse of the Bambino swept away in the Fall Classic.  Baseball is a game of dejection and drudgery, but also of hope and renewal.  Each opening day, every team is in first place.  

When I explained myself during the final game of last year's Astros-Braves playoff series, the person to whom I defended my negative view of the national pastime quoted to me an expression her mother used to use:  "Build a bridge and get over it."  

"I'm not the one who went on strike," I replied.  "Baseball can build a bridge to me."  

Maybe, in a weird way, baseball has.  Certainly, the baseball bloggers of SportsBlogs Nation have opened up a myriad of avenues by which I might find my way back to the game I have been unable to forgive.  (My hometown team blogger quite literally drew me a map.)  Perhaps there is even a certain pleasant symmetry to the fact that the Braves presently stink in a way they have not stunk in 15 years, just as they did for most of the years that Dad and I were going to games together.  

Given the current state of affairs, I'm not at all sure that baseball deserves to have me as a fan . . . but I know for certain that Thomas deserves to have me try.  My son's ability to see the game with an unjaundiced eye may help me to take a fresh view of baseball, as well.  I can't deprive him of the opportunity to see what I saw as a boy and I probably shouldn't deprive myself of the opportunity to try to recapture some of that magic myself.  

Springtime is a season of hope renewed.  Labor in the fields beneath the summer sun is intended to produce a harvest in the fall, but, even as the initial chill begins to be felt in the air and the verdant, vibrant leaves grow brittle and drift downward to the ground in the throes of death, there remains a tiny fragment of April's confident innocence in October's hard reality.  Amid dashed expectations and shattered dreams, there lingers in the first frost of autumn the remembrance that, ere leaf subsided to leaf and dawn went down to day, something glorious was glimpsed ever so briefly, like a shaft of blinding sunlight piercing the dense foliage overhead, and accompanying that memory is the rejuvenating knowledge that this selfsame magical majesty will come around once more as soon as pitchers and catchers report.  

Nature's first green is gold and the fleeting hour in which we retain the hardest hue to hold must not be squandered.  Earlier this week, I went on-line, checked the Braves' remaining schedule, found a suitable date, and ordered tickets.  

Next month, I'm taking my son to his first major league baseball game.  

Go 'Dawgs! . . . and, maybe, just maybe, Go Braves!

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