Life Lessons From A National Pasttime

You hear that? The crisp collision of white ash and cowhide. The staccato snap of well-oiled leather. These are the sounds that begin, ever so quietly at first, just as we shake away the frost of another winter.

Another baseball season is upon us.

And count me among those who believe, quite strongly, that baseball transcends the common earthly realm of sport. It’s more than a game of ingenious design. It’s more than a symbolic renewal of springtime hope and summer frolic. It is, my friends, life.

Because just like life itself, baseball is boring. Stupendously boring.

Understand, I love baseball. Most Americans do. Almost 75 million of us attended a major league game last year. That’s a lot of tickets.
Maybe the game is ingrained into our national DNA because, of all the sports available to us, this is the one that so elegantly captures the essence of human existence.

There’s the tiny minutiae of everyday activity that separates the winners from the losers. The progression toward an undetermined end time, which could come disappointingly soon or march painfully on and on to the bewilderment of all observers. There’s the universal hope for life beyond the regular season. And there’s the tedium. Oh, the tedium.

Baseball is all about little things that are equal parts uninteresting and critical. Advancing the runner. Not swinging at a pitch outside the strike zone. Avoiding the double play. Hitting the cutoff man.

Just like in real life. Very rarely do you have an opportunity to hit a home run or be any sort of hero at work or at home. Usually, a good day involves not inadvertently hitting “reply all” on an office email.

Then there’s the rhythm of the game itself, riddled with existential angst. According to Baseball-Reference.com, a major league team throws an average of 146 pitches per game. So, for two teams, you’re looking at an average of 292 pitches. That’s 292 opportunities to sit and ponder and get lost in your thoughts. If, like me, you tend to obsess over the past in real life, you can stew about that last pitch or that line drive that certainly looked foul or why this pitcher was even brought in to face this batter in the first place.

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You can contemplate and brood as much you want at a baseball game. Because, let’s be honest, those 292 pitches aren’t coming anytime soon. First, the batter is going to have to step out of the box. Then the pitcher is going to step off the rubber. The catcher, sensing an opportunity to use his legs for something other than crouching, will no doubt jog out to the mound. Which will only bring the pitching coach out of the dugout to talk to them both, mostly because he wants to give the impression a pitching coach actually does something. Then the umpire will slowly amble out there, ostensibly to break it all up. In the average baseball game, this happens 3,597 times.

But we understand because we know the feeling of wanting to escape our boring cubicles mid-afternoon.

For most of us, baseball is just there. Sometimes we look up from our iPhone to see a great play on TV just in time. Sometimes we go weeks without even checking the scores or standings. And sometimes we actually go to a game and get emotionally involved in the outcome, even though it doesn’t much matter. Especially if you’re a Royals fan, like me.

Whether it’s baseball or life, you’ll miss the rare exciting parts if you don’t make an effort to look for some kind of joy, some kind of beauty, in the mind-numbing nothingness before you.

And just like life itself, all things must eventually come to an end. Even a sun-soaked afternoon at the old ballpark. Of course, that’s when things can get really scary. After all, parking lots are hell.

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