Each autumn, as I watch the final out of the World Series, an unavoidable feeling of loss washes over me.
“People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball,” begins the late, great Rogers Hornsby’s encapsulation of baseball’s spiritual and cultural significance. “I’ll tell you what I do,” — Hornsby says, in answer to his own question. “I stare out the window and wait for spring.”
Hornsby felt the winter in his soul more deeply and more keenly than I, but I feel some of what he must have felt and approve the sentiment.
Once the joy and bustle of the holiday season have been swept away and evenings begin to grow imperceptibly yet steadily brighter, awaiting Opening Day becomes synonymous with watching the barren earth for signs of new life.
This year, spring came and there was no baseball. As nature erupted with color and chilly March days warmed into cool April, Opening Day never came. It has been a cruel twist that, as the pandemic confined us to our homes and presented us with more free time than ever, there has been no baseball to help us through.
It is especially difficult now that baseball’s absence is owing more to the inability of the league and players to come to an agreement on a suitable way to play a truncated season than it is to the virus. Their silly disputes—undertaken while fans look on, desperate for even a few games—are a neat example of our fallen humanity. This spring, it seems, we are being asked to witness both the natural and spiritual effects of the fall.
I have never been the sort to watch my team—the New York Yankees—with pseudo-religious fervor, but when there was baseball, baseball was on, and from my childhood I have learned to arrange my days from March to November around the timelessness of the game.
The beauty of baseball, one of its many beauties, is its ability to fill as much or as little space as you ask of it. The game will play dutifully in the background as the soundtrack to a dusky summer night, requiring little attention while it serves as an accompaniment to an evening with friends—or it will serve as a friend on an evening when you’re home alone with a book.
When I was in middle and high school, dinner would conclude and my homework would sit menacingly before me, but even then, there was baseball. My brother and I were never permitted to watch television during the school week, but baseball, we argued, didn’t really count as television, did it?
Somehow, we won that argument, and in the spring and autumn, I polished off my homework in front of the TV with the help of a successful formula: math problems during commercials, various worksheets one line at a time between pitches, studying for a test with the announcers on mute.
Anyone who disdains baseball and says there’s too much dead time—or, horror of horrors, demands a pitch clock—evidently has not discovered the joy of reading a good book or talking with a friend during a game. If, to follow gameplay, your eyes had to be glued to the set at all times, what fun would that be? We all want the best of both worlds, and with baseball, we can have it.
This spring, facing evenings without a game and afternoons without a game to look forward to, I thought that reruns might fill the hole left in my days. This was not so. Watching a Yankees team from nearly ten years ago somehow made everything worse, and seeing players I had watched and adored in my childhood compounded melancholy with nostalgia.
Without baseball, I settled, in the end, for Baseball, the Ken Burns documentary. If I couldn’t watch the game, if I couldn’t watch games past, I would learn about the game and its players, how it came to be and how it became what it is.
Like many things in this odd and unprecedented time, the loss of baseball has been an occasion to notice how blessed I am, how little I am being asked to suffer even now. It has been a chance, too, to remember how grateful we should be for this game, how lucky we are to love baseball, when we have it and when it’s gone.
Alexandra DeSanctis is a staff writer at National Review and a visiting fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.
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