Friday, May 21, 2004

Still the National Pastime? You Bet!

I went to the Rangers game with Halfling last night; it was my first time to go to The Ballpark in Arlington Ameriquest Field (man, that'll take some getting used to) this season, and his first time in about a year, maybe longer. We're both huge fans of the game, and we got a kick out of realizing how many of the same big events in the team's history we've both attended, even if we didn't know each other at the time. He and I had both alluded to this in our respective "Fun Facts" posts, but we had never actually taken inventory before: Nolan Ryan's 5000th strikeout game? Check. First-ever exhibition game at The Ballpark? Check. All-Star Game in '95? Check. Tonight, it was cool to be there at the same time together and on purpose.

We were running a little late, thanks to traffic and a pregame burrito, and the Rangers were already down 2-0 when we got to our seats. In previous seasons, that probably would have been enough to seal their fate, but this year's team is different. A-Rod may have disparaged his former teammates when he referred to them as "24 kids," but in the words of The Who, the kids are alright. (UPDATE: That particular song evidently was played on the P.A. as the Rangers took the field for the Friday night game against A-Rod and the Yankees; the kids proceeded to win, 9-7.) By the time we'd been sitting down for five minutes, they scored five runs, and an insurance run was added the next inning. Two of those Ranger at-bats were homers, so we got to see the fireworks go off. The rest of the game was mostly a pitcher's duel, but it didn't matter; the weather was perfect (the cool breeze blowing in was something we'll miss in August) and the whole night was very relaxing, which hasn't happened much lately. The obligatory postgame trip to Krispy Kreme capped off the evening.

Some say that baseball is boring--way too many breaks between the action and stuff like that. The game has evidently been losing fans to faster-paced sports like basketball and even NASCAR lately, and some have questioned whether it can even still be called the "national pastime." I, however, think that the naysayers are full of it. Baseball, among all of the major sports, still most accurately reflects the best of America. How so? Let me list a few reasons:

--Virtually every able-bodied person can play the game very similarly to the way it's played professionally, with a minimum of equipment. You don't need pads or skates or sticks or cleats; all you really have to have is a ball, a bat and a glove. You can play a good approximation of baseball without fielding a full team, and you don't need a regulation field or its amenities to do so: a bag of concrete can be home plate, Mr. Johnson's Buick next door can be first base, and the old oak tree down the street can be the foul pole/outfield fence.

--Professional baseball games can be very affordable, and they happen at home about 80 times a season, so the game is very conducive to the parent/kid bonding that makes sports great. My dad took me to baseball games starting when I was in kindergarten (first one was at Wrigley Field--yay), and both of Halfling's parents are avid fans, even "taking" him to games while he was in the womb. This bonding can carry over to playing catch or taking batting practice at home, and it tends to continue through the generations: kids whose dads (and/or moms) took them to baseball games will likely take their own kids there. A few years ago, they used to show a video in Arlington that showed all these fathers and sons at ballgames, and the first time I saw it, I almost lost it; I can't wait to have a son (or athletically-minded daughter) to take to a game with me.

--The dynamics of baseball reflect the two things that make America great: Individual achievement and solid teamwork. Sure, there are individual feats in other sports ("Hail Mary" passes, acrobatic catches, slam dunks, slap shots, etc.), but not everyone is scheduled for an individual turn the way batters and/or pitchers are in baseball. You could even compare baseball to jazz in a way; the individual matchups are like the soloists (with a strikeout or a home run being akin to a killer solo), while a perfectly-executed double play by the infield is like a finely-tuned rhythm section humming along beneath a really hard tune.

One night last month, while I was online, J-Guar reminded me that it was opening night of baseball season; he was watching his hometown Twins on the Internet. I had been so busy recently that I had forgotten it was that day, so I quickly turned the TV in the other room to the Rangers game and alerted Halfling to do the same. Whereas he would end up falling asleep to the TV game (which was on the West Coast and thus a late-nighter over here), I, not having a TV in my room, kicked it really old-school and drifted off to the radio broadcast (using the "sleep" button on my alarm clock for the very first time). I'm glad baseball season is back, and I'm even happier to finally have made it out there this year; there's way more of that to come.

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