Saturday, May 1, 2010

Baseball's warm embrace

Well, May arrived today, and as this month begins, we can sense that our thoughts are leaning more toward summer.

After all, we are only weeks away from Memorial Day, which many say is the unofficial start to summer. I don't like that proclamation because it takes away from the importance of the holiday. It is another example of how the commercialization of our culture strips away the meaning of a holiday, making it just another day to go out and spend money.

I could go on regarding that topic, but that is another column for another time.

Still, there are some unmistakable activities that we associate with this time of year. For me, one of those events is baseball. Whether it is on the Little League or professional level, baseball and the month of May were made for each other.

By this time of the year, almost our entire country has put the cold temperatures of the past few months behind us. Baseball helps us as we emerge from the unofficial hibernation that forces most of us indoors during winter.

Even the pace of the sport matches what our needs are as we spend more time outdoors. Some folks complain that baseball games are too long. There is some validity to that complaint, but as the days grow longer, the game gives us the excuse to go to a game and enjoy life.

Baseball has been called America’s national pastime, but many folks now say that title should go to professional football. Perhaps this shift in attitude reflects how our nation is changing.

We live in a time in which meals can be prepared in five minutes in a microwave. The media used to be a refuge for folks wanting deep explorations of today's important issues. However, with the advent of 'USA Today,' the emphasis is now on short bursts of information rather than detailed analysis.

In other words, people lack the focus or attention span to dedicate themselves to events that require patience. When comparing baseball and football, we can see how this conflict plays itself out.

Football relies on short bursts of action. Every 40 to 60 seconds a play happens and rarely gives the viewer the chance to talk much to the people around them. The football season often appears to be over almost as quickly as it began. Since teams only play one game a week, all the focus for fans is on three intense hours per week.

Baseball, on the other hand, unfolds at a more leisurely pace. As each pitch is thrown, people can carry on a conversation with the friend or loved one that is there with them. On the major league level, most teams play five or six games a week. So, instead of a single focus, our attention is spread out through the weeks as we follow our favorite teams. While the football season zooms by, the baseball season gently passes throughout the year. It begins in the rebirth of spring and ends as the leaves fall from the trees in autumn.

An analogy that has been made to the two sports is that football is like a one-night stand. There is a lot of energy and emotion for a brief time and then it is over. Conversely, baseball is like a lovely April to October romance that unfolds each day. Because of this pace, it allows people to savor the romance from day to day. There is not much savoring with football.

Though people have tried to destroy baseball over the years (steroids, greedy owners, etc.), its survival serves as a testimony to its greatness.

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