Why baseball is the national pastime
After much resistance, I began to appreciate baseball – my son's favorite sport.
Mitch Stringer/Cal Sport Media/Newscom
It wasn't love at first sight. Or even second. All last season I resisted my son's attempts to coax me into enjoying baseball. Sure, I pitched through gnats with the best of them and smashed into the swing set trying valiantly to catch a fly ball. I condescended to read my newspaper in front of the TV when games went into extra innings. So why do I now find myself looking forward to starting the day by checking stats on MLB.com?
Friends to whom I had appealed for pity repeatedly countered that baseball was "the most intellectual of sports." After many years in Russia, where chess results used to lead the evening sports, I found this hard to accept.
I resorted to eye-rolling with non-Americans, many of whom shared my skepticism that the collective standing around, occasionally broken up by a frantic chase for a ball, could really be considered an active sport.
Only after a talk with a psychologist did I realize that the difficulty lay not in the sport itself, but in my perception of baseball as a problem. My 8-year-old son was interested in nothing but. Weekend after weekend, I proposed outings to museums, canoe trips, even bike rides to ice cream shops. But Saturday after Saturday, I squinted into the sun and his eager face as he waited for another terrible pitch. "You want my advice?" the psychologist asked. "Get into baseball."
So I did, although it wasn't easy. I brought in the local Little League for support. I tried to see my son's growing collection of baseball cards and the hours he spent with them as an opportunity for intense concentration and achieving that elusive feeling of well-being mystically referred to as "flow." Allowing a child to become totally engrossed in a passion was, the psychologist counseled, one of the best things a parent could do.
I stopped trying to distract my son with other projects. I noticed that these cards were leading him to experiment with statistics and probabilities in a way that I should be envying rather than bemoaning. This child, whom I had never managed to interest in reading, could now spend hours perusing the sports section of newspapers and any baseball books he could get his mitt on. He invented dream teams and had them play one another in a game of his own devising.
We went to games, and I began to appreciate all the time players spent waiting for that next pitch. Unlike sports that feed on the rush of constant action, this was a game that offered time to contemplate one's next move, time to strategize, time to philosophize about the psychology of the other side – wait a minute, wasn't this just like chess?
In baseball, however, the stadiums are nicer. Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the Orioles' stadium in Baltimore, proved to be an unexpected suitor. I was won over by its vertical intimacy and almost begged to visit the Babe Ruth museum and birthplace following one long game of uncountable extra innings.
Meanwhile, my son and I tracked the demise of D.C.'s RFK stadium, which was decommissioned at the end of another disappointing season. After one of the Nationals' final games, we had to ask a groundskeeper to scrape a little commemorative dirt into an empty peanut bag for posterity. And for love.
To my surprise, in October, I found myself tearing home with a pizza and children in tow to see if the Yankees would survive to play another game in their playoffs. (They didn't, to our dismay.) I couldn't wait to see how the game played out and to compare it with previous games. My children all looked at me with perplexed gazes of astonishment tempered with respect. This didn't feel exactly like being in love. But it did feel like I might just be slipping into a state of deep and meaningful like.