You spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball, and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time. -- Jim BoutonThe long-time sportswriter for the Washington Post, Thomas Boswell, wrote a timeless piece collected in a book of the same name, Why Time Begins On Opening Day, published in 1984. Boswell muses on the "resolute grasp" that baseball maintains for so many of us" and why our "affection for the game has held steady for decades, maybe even grown with age." He asks what baseball is doing among our other "first-rate passions." And, indeed, when one looks over the posts on this blog, it could seem incongruous to have baseball up there with such serious and important issues as social justice, civil rights and capital punishment.
Boswell explains that "in contrast to the unwieldy world which we hold in common, baseball offers a kingdom built to human scale. Its problems and questions are exactly our size. Here we may come when we feel a need for a rooted point of reference." It is not that baseball is an escape from reality, "it's merely one of our many refuges within the real where we try to create a sense of order on our own terms."
And here's the key, I think: "Born to an age where horror has become commonplace, where tragedy has, by its monotonous repetition, become a parody of sorrow, we need to fence off a few parks where humans try to be fair, where skill has some hope of reward, where absurdity has a harder time than usual getting a ticket."
As Boswell points out, baseball "offers us pleasure and insight at so many levels and in so many forms." There is history -- an "annual chapter each year since 1869." At the ballpark itself there is "living theater and physical poetry." And perhaps, "baseball gives us more pleasure, more gentle unobtrusive sustenance, away from the park than it does inside it," pouring over box scores, crunching statistics, debating players and teams with our cohorts, and watching games and highlights on TV.
"The ways that baseball insinuates itself into the empty corner, cheering up the odd hour, are almost too ingrained to notice."
Opening day is finally here. Play ball!