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Baseball holds on to romance, leisure lost in modern athletics

Letter to the Editor

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It’s just a couple of weeks after opening day in Major League Baseball, and it’s hard not to feel the romance of the game. It’s a time when hopes haven’t yet been crushed, when we still think that the Braves might do something beyond their own division. With the upcoming renovation of the on-campus stadium, it’s a good time to examine our relationship with this leisurely sport.

Baseball fans have been lamenting the End of the Game ever since Paris beaned Achilles with a fastball in the heel – which, admittedly, was in retaliation for the latter’s unsportsmanlike conduct toward the opposing catcher, Hector. (Remember, as former commissioner Bart Giamatti used to say, baseball is Greek tragedy, every runner a Ulysses trying to make it home.)

But by definition the end is surely closer now. Baseball is supposed to be a leisurely game (for which others pause for fans to stretch and sing?). Unlike other sports, it isn’t ruled by the clock. As George Carlin observes, “Baseball has no time limit: We don’t know when it’s gonna end … Football is rigidly timed, and it will end even if we’ve got to go to sudden death.”

Innings are governed by the game, shaped only by the action of the players – a reminder to the time-controlled fan that the wristwatch (or iPhone) need not rule everything. There are other ways of knowing when things should be, and to be cognizant of innings is to be reminded also of the days and seasons that used to govern.

Baseball reminding us of our pastoral heritage is only natural for a game that became popular in the early-20th century, when industry was expanding and Americans were leaving their farms behind. Baseball was a reminder of its fans’ already-passing heritage.

To say that the game is leisurely, though, is not to say that it doesn’t require thought. To return to the Greeks, a leisure activity was one performed for its own sake: philosophy, play, prayer. So when George Will comments that the game is played at a “relentless” pace, with “barely enough time between pitches for all the thinking that is required,” his account is perfectly in accord with the spectator’s leisure.

Unfortunately, to connect the game with this higher calling is to understand its demise. As political theorist Diana Schaub reflects, “Real leisure takes one out of time and self … It’s no wonder that baseball – along with religion and philosophy – is endangered in our profoundly this-worldly, un-contemplative time.”

And that’s the problem: Baseball as it exists today, even on campus, is increasingly un-leisurely. Though the recent addition of Patterson Plaza behind right field at Sewell-Thomas has helped (as any reader of the Symposium knows, alcohol aids leisurely pursuit), there’s much still that’s problematic. With the jumbotron scoreboard constantly flashing and making noise, the nearly incessant music and the distracting games and moments of trivia, it’s hard to remember that we have escaped to the ball field for leisure, for something our iPhones cannot provide.

Fortunately, with the renovation of Sewell-Thomas, the University has a chance to send us back to something closer to the field of our dreams. Here are some suggestions: First, go for a classic atmosphere. Play on the romance of the game, its inherent nostalgia.

Second, replace the electronic scoreboard with a manual one. I’m betting there are some willing students who’d love to run it.

And third, cut the music (except the organ) and the constant gimmicks and games. Allow us time to reflect on what we’ve seen, to correct our score cards and to relax in the atmosphere of our friends without bombarding our senses.

Despite its downhill trajectory since the Greeks played it on the shores of Troy, baseball gives us hope for times to come by reminding us of times past. As George Will has noted, “The philosopher in us is consoled by the thought that, although ours is an age of dizzying flux, baseball retains a healthy Luddite hostility to modernity.” May it be so at Alabama.

Barrett Bowdre is a first-year law student.

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Baseball holds on to romance, leisure lost in modern athletics