Walt Whitman said of baseball in 1888, "America’s game: has the snap, go, fling, of the American atmosphere—belongs as much to our institutions, fits into them as significantly, as our constitutions, laws: is just as important in the sum total of our historic life. It is the place where memory gathers."
Baseball is "America's Pastime". It is etched into the cultural firmament. Popular parlance accords euphemisms to its rules and intricacies ("out to left field", "three strikes you're out", etc.). It stands as one of, if not the, first wholly American cultural institution. The game lends itself to unique forms of personal expression from Hideo Nomo's zen-like windup to Dontrelle Willis' careening, coordinated lunge towards the plate to Mark McGuire's scythe-like swing and became the country's first cultural export spreading rapidly to Japan and Latin America soon after its inception.
During the early 20th century, a country comprised of many different ethnic and religious groups—with no shared history or aristocracy to look up to—found common ground in the sport. Baseball, with its pastoral stadiums set against the grime of the city, inherited a role in communities from the Roman bathhouses. So much sway did it hold over the public's imagination, that it became a staple of the American seasonal calendar: spring, marked by the onset of Spring Training, and fall by the World Series.
In many ways, the history of baseball has mirrored and presaged the trajectory of the nation. Conceived shortly before the Civil War, the first professional teams emerged shortly after the dust settled. It sputtered along in various forms until the Roaring 20s when it exploded in popularity with Babe Ruth as the Jupiterean lord of the diamond representing the new upwardly mobile American Empire emerging from WWI.
In 1947, nearly 10 years before the courts desegregated schools, Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier and in the 1980s and 1990s, the sport saw a large influx of Hispanic players reflecting the wider demographic shifts of the country.
Around the time of the Dot Com Bubble, the sport witnessed its own form of artificially enhanced dynamism as juicers like Mark McGuire and Barry Bonds shredded records standing for nearly 40 years only to be denoted by an "asterisk" after doping scandals swept through the league.
Today, baseball languishes amidst the myriad diversions offered to Americans. Plagued by its own wholly unique issues, it has suffered from dwindling attendance and a backseat position in the American cultural zeitgeist. The MLB has pondered rule changes to speed the game up and, recently, decided to "deaden" balls to reduce the monotony of the sport's reliance on the long ball that once made it a staple. Swallowed by the Woke Theocracy back in April when Georgia's "draconian" voting laws lead to the All-Star game being pulled out of the state, baseball has suffered much the same fate as other core American institutions: drowned among the demands of a humorless political class bent on sapping life from anything that bleeds American pride.
But last night, the Chicago White Sox and New York Yankees gathered at the hallowed and holy Field of Dreams in Iowa made famous by the Kevin Costner movie of the same name. The game ended in a transcendent manner reminiscent of Robert Redford's famous light-shattering home run at the end of The Natural. White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson walked up to the plate with a runner on, one out, down by a run, and stroked the ball clear over the right-field fence. The scene was surreal. Fireworks immediately erupted as Anderson rounded the bases. A wide shot of the island of green in the midst of an inky black Iowa night, emblazoned with American symbolism, inspired pride. What would normally have been a fairly standard regular season baseball game, hidden deep in the woke catacombs that ESPN has become, poked its head through like the first corn shoot of the season. A flash of brilliance and beauty against our increasingly flat and mundane cultural landscape. The moment was a brief reminder of how a core American institution by and for the people can inspire pride in one's own country.