The only things I loved at age eight and still love at age thirty two are my family and baseball. Today was Opening Day, and I was extremely excited. Appropriately, I spent the day playing with my kids. But the ipod touch was tuned to various games, and I got to hear a good bit of the action. I got to hear the Yankees lose and Ken Griffey Jr. hit a home run as a Mariner, tying an Opening Day record for the most all time. Just moments ago, the Mariners beat the Twins to open the season. It's going to be a great spring.
I like sport. I like the concept of sport. I like people using their talents, physical and mental, to achieve a goal. I like the physicality that doesn't require violence. I think the sports a person likes, or doesn't like, say a lot about them. My favorite is far and away baseball, because of the symmetry and flow of the game. It is both mathematically sublime and well paced. It is the perfect game. I also enjoy football, our national martial sport. I like the planning and the physicality. Soccer is nice too, because of the athleticism of the players. I wish it had a stronger strategic element, but I enjoy it.
Nothing beats baseball for me, however. It's beautiful and orderly, with a combination of one on one challenge and teamwork. I love how the numbers can lay out the game so clearly. You can't express any other sport in math as well as baseball. Math is the language of the universe and baseball, and that never fails to please me. Even the odd numbers make me happy. I can get a little pick me up by remembering that the mound is sixty feet and six inches from home plate. Why the six inches? I don't know. But it's perfect.
The history of the game is wonderful. You can look up the statistics of teams from the civil war era and compare them to the 2008 teams. That's a big chunk of America's past, and we've been playing ball all that time. Within that history, baseball has sometimes been above and beyond the history, too. Baseball integrated nearly twenty years before African-Americans were allowed to go to white high schools in my home state of West Virginia. It measured the times, and sometimes surged ahead of them. One of the greatest Americans spoke of baseball at the turn of the twentieth century, and who is going to argue with Walt Whitman?
I see great things in baseball.
It's our game-the American game.
It will take our people out of doors, fill them with oxygen,
give them a larger physical stoicism.
Tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set.
Repair these losses, and be a blessing to us.
There is something amazing about a game where even the best of the best fail seventy percent of the time. It is a natural game, and a balanced game, and no one can rise too far without being humbled. I can replay the clip of the 1995 Mariners win against the Yankees in the ALDS and get teary eyed even today. When there is so much riding on a moment, and such a big chance the big hit won't come, it is wonderful when it does come together. It just continues, as Mariner announcer Dave Niehaus would say:
Right now, the Mariners looking for the tie. They would take a fly ball, they would love a base hit into the gap, and they could win it with Junior's speed. The stretch, and the 0-1 pitch on the way to Edgar Martínez, swung on and lined down the left field line for a base hit! Here comes Joey. Here is Junior to third base, they're going to wave him in, the throw to the plate will be late, the Mariners are going to play for the American League championship! I don't believe it! It just continues! My oh my!
I have such fond memories of playing as a boy. I don't remember the games, really. But I remember the smells, and feel of the dirt, and running around with my friends. I remember the perfect swing that would give me a base hit up the middle. I have learned various meditation techniques in my life, but closing my eyes and imagining a smooth swing still grounds me like almost nothing else. I wonder what some of my darvish brothers and sisters would think if they knew that my zekr was frequently a soundtrack to baseball. They'd think it was awesome, I bet. If they didn't then they don't get baseball.
Much like my spiritual journey, I don't care what happens in the season. Wins are nice, of course, but I just want the game to be played well. I want well executed strategies and trained athletes doing their best. I want to take my son to the game on a warm spring day and show him people who are good at what they do, and do what they love. I want to give him a chance to see that a perfect swing is the clearest and most sublime proof that we live in a beautiful and orderly universe, if we open our eyes to see it.