Its the last eve of 2007 and I have baseball on my mind. I'm a lifelong sports fan raised on Fran Tarkington, Alan Page, Tony Oliva, Rod Carew and Harmon Killebrew. Everyone knows there is something magical about the baseball field, but the latest Steroids scandal has me wondering. There are no shortage of writers who have reminded us of the mystical qualities of the game of Baseball. But, perhaps all this magic and spiritual observance of America's pastime is only a cliche. Maybe, some of these baseball blogs written by female sports fans are not testaments to the game but rather testaments to their fathers - who never really cared all that much for the game anyway, just one more remembrance that added unknown mystique to the game.
I mean, what can be mystical about watching baseball inside. As I young adult, I observed games in the HHH dome where I personally witnessed magical events such as a no-hitter, 3 players reach 3000 hits, a couple of Worlds Series championships and Kirby Puckett's last game (where the sound of bat meets baseball echoing through the stadium was replaced by the smack of the ball hitting Kirby's face). So, what is so magical about baseball that Carlos Silva commands a four-year $48 million contract?
I'll tell you what I find magical about watching baseball. Its not sharing my passion with 30,000 other people crammed into the Metrodome. I abhor crowds and I detest the fact that Baseball is so profitable that Carlos Silva (mind you, he's a nice enough man) not only has a job among the sports most elite players, but he also is signed to a ridiculously large contract that will probably appear small in a year or twos time from now. I like watching baseball on a weekday afternoon in a near empty stadium where you can hear Dennis Martinez's slider hit and break Kirby Puckett's cheekbone from the left field bleachers and then the murmur of a few season ticket holders behind homeplate as Tom Kelly's footsteps slap across the infield. What makes baseball magical is not something you can share with thousands of people and it isn't something that makes the select few so rich that they become celebrities far removed from their fans.
Carl Eller read children's stories to our elementary school and it wasn't a charitable event. I am sure our school forked out a much appreciated hundred dollars or so. I thought Carl Eller wasn't that much different than my dad or one of my grade school friend's dad. These guys were mythical, but no more so than our fathers. Now, sports heroes are celebrities and baseball titans are mere cheaters making millions. They are as far removed from their fan base as the billionaire beneficiaries of permanent tax-cuts are from your average working American. But that doesn't stop us from paying tribute to the magic of baseball anymore than it stops middle-aged white guys from voting republican.
So, thats why I still read the sports page and comb box scores everyday, whether its baseball or basketball. Its out of institutional habit more than a spiritual necessity. Bad habits are hard to break and I don't suppose my likelihood of breaking it is any greater than a lifetime smoker on the verge of lung cancer will quit smoking tomorrow. After a while, when our dreams long ago died, we come to terms with the fact that we all got to die someday, just like we realize that the American dream is no more mythical than America's pastime. We aren't willing to embrace the fact, so we just ride it into the sunset.