Subtlety, Baseball, and Returns to Greatness


If you are thinking of places that matter in America, the first place that might come to mind is New York or Washington D.C.  If I prod you in another direction and say only include nature, the answer might move to The Grand Canyon, or Rocky Mountains.  This, I think, explains our present state and why baseball is no longer the preeminent sport in our country.

It seems that in this day and age we need to be wowed every day, every hour, every second.  This goes for sports as well as most other walks of life.  The big city seems to be the most important place at all times.  People hustling and bustling their way through Times Square, the picture of economic prosperity and modernity.  Not that I have anything against skyscrapers, but why are they what we want our country to be associated with?

Again, in nature it seems we are drawn to the massive and hard to comprehend.  Mountains are enormous, blotting out everything else if you get close enough.  Or the ocean and its power displayed unceasingly as wave after wave pounds the coastline seemingly an attack of attrition that the sea knows it can eventually win by chipping a few grains of sand or rock off of the land with each strike.  The loud and all encompassing draws our attention at this point and we almost seem unable to notice anything else.

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Compared to other sports baseball is relatively quiet, seems slow at times, and is unassuming.  There are occasional blasts of the aesthetically inspiring when a home run is robbed or a ball is blasted into the upper deck, but these are sporadic punctuation.  Baseball itself is patience and consistency, not shock and awe but in some ways the thing between events.  The playoffs have amplified this feeling for me.  Waiting for the batter to step in and the pitcher to come set builds the drama, and then the pitcher steps off and the anticipation grows again.  A foul ball on a 3-2 count with runners on base and the tension soars higher.  Then the bat flashes and your runners come home, the balloon of pressure pops, and for a moment it is just thrill.  Then slowly the drama starts to build again.

I grew up in the Flint Hills of Kansas, the antithesis of an ocean or big city.  And yet, it is a beautiful and inspiring place.  Green rolling hills can be missed as they don’t dominate your view like the mountains, but over time they work their way into your purview letting you appreciate your surroundings for all of its beauty, bold and timid alike.  Nothing is always stealing the focus, so instead of the ocean always being the focal point, one day the hills can be and the next the changing colors of the leaves followed by a day where the clouds are big and puffy.

Baseball is like those hills for me.  The focus of the game centers around a one on one battle, pitcher and hitter.  Behind the hitter, the catcher is trying to help his pitcher win that battle by calling the game.  All of this is couched in a team sport as the defenders position themselves behind the pitcher and the other hitters line up waiting their turn to do damage.  Base runners add further layers or concern for the pitcher and strategy for the offense.  The game is not one thing, it is a little bit of everything.

Watching our Royals return to October has been incredible, and as the world around goes dormant preparing for winter a city and team have come alive.  Kansas City has been waiting for a winner for so long.  The college teams have had various successes, but while that creates joy for pockets of our little slice of the country, it is also somewhat divisive as the various school factions look up with envy or down with smugness.  The Royals winning has blurred such lines, and brought everyone together.  Blue abounds, being worn by young and old alike.  Social media, regular old media, proverbial water coolers, and random meetings in the streets are all excitedly discussing baseball.  Yesterday I had grade school boys talking to me about the win and how the series is one to one because of my shirt.  This has not been my experience wearing Royals gear in the past.

This baseball season is down to a five game series between our Royals and San Francisco’s Giants.  The home field advantage has swung in favor of the Giants after splitting the first two in KC.  We can go through numbers and odds, it is something I am fond of, but a five game series in baseball is so very hard to predict in any meaningful way.  It is no longer about analyzing the teams for me, I’ll get back to that in a couple of weeks, trying to figure out what Dayton is going to do or what I would do in his place.  Now it is about wearing blue and hanging on to every pitch.  About enjoying the game and the comradeship it is engendering in our small part of this big world.  It’s about letting the times in between matter, and less about the next endpoint.