On baseball

Trip Start Apr 02, 2007
Trip End Jul 02, 2007

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Flag of United States  , Illinois
Wednesday, April 25, 2007

On my first full day in Chicago i took a wander over to historic Wrigley Field, one of the oldest ballparks in the USofA. i was horrified to discover a carnival-like atmosphere in full swing; the Cubs were hosting the St. Louis Cardinals, which meant, to my simple Aussie logic, that there would be no more home games for two weeks, and thus that i would miss a great chance to see American baseball at its quintessential best. Ha. Two days later i was at a night match at Wrigley, watching the Cubs get thumped by the Milwaukee Brewers.

Ostensibly baseball shares a lot with cricket, the preferred sport of my homeland. both belong to the rare crowd of sports in which a clearly overweight man can be considered an elite athlete; both are lengthy spectator sports which depend upon ales to keep the audience stimulated; both, most obviously, involve said overweight men swinging a big stick at a little ball, while other big men scamper after it. the stick-swingers run in strange and arcane formations. the ale-swillers shout and cheer.

Watching the Cubs lose abysmally (it was only 4-1 but there was not an inspiring Cub moment until that single run, which came with two out in the bottom of the ninth, when the Cardinals outfielder slipped in the rain and dropped his last catch - note my effective use of local baseball lingo) did, however, show me some rather interesting things about Americaness. Similar as our summer sports are, the ways we relate to these silly codes are very very different. A Cardinal scores a base hit, and the Cubs pitcher throws his little hand towel to the floor, kicks at it. a grandiose gesture, which in cricket would be called a dummy-spit. In baseball though the crowd mirrors the gesture. hats are thrown to the ground, hands go up in despair. who knew that there were people in the world that actually jumped up and down on their hats? there is something to this.

In my AtoZ of the USofA, E would stand for earnestness. the pitcher so furious he has to throw things about, the police that whizz about town with theirs sirens yowling, the kids on the subway that rap out loud to their ipods, the poets scribbling frenzied poems, the businessman that shouts into his hands-free phone - these are all manifestations of the amazing earnestness of America. i've noted the loudness of the country, and i take that too as a sign of this E-arnestness. loudspeaking Americans aren't loud for fun, they fairly shout because they consider that what they have to say is so important that it cannot possibly be held back for another second. it must be delivered forth now, clearly and widely. this earnestness is, i think, one of the characteristics that makes America such a powerhouse. the ability to suspend disbelief, and take seriously and believe passionately in that which you do explains why the cubs still have fans after 100 years without a championship, why there is so much great art coming out of this country, and why patriotism is so intense here. it is needed to justify war, and also to drive the immense wheels that keep the nation driving relentlessly forward.

the seventh innings and the Cubs are down by four, playing too badly to come back. the man behind us is chanting his mantra, that 'if we can just get on the board now we still have a chance'. the innings ends, scorelessly, and every spectator jumps to his or her feet for a rendition of 'take me out to the ball game'. the song is roared, more stirringly than any national anthem has ever been sung (and this on a tuesday night in the rain). it is loud because it is earnest; the fans love their team and they love their sport and they love their song. there is no embarrassment, there is no one seated. the cheese-from-a-tap nachos are forgotten. hands are raised. it is the highlight of the night and i wish i knew the words. i wish i wasn't wearing a new Cubs shirt half-ironically, but an old, unwashed, lucky shirt proudly. It is crystallisation, a moment that may not be exclusively American, but which is oh-so magnificently and earnestly American.

and after the song the fans begin to disappear into the wet night. by the time that Cubs run comes almost two innings later the grandstands are very very empty. its seems the song is more important than the game. and then the outfielder slips and the stands explode into shirt-removing, air-punching, beer-spilling, buddy-hugging euphoria.
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