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Perspective: by Jerry Pyle
Perspective: Baseball's Anguish
It was a pretty good week for Cobber sports. The top Cobber trackers kept turning in better times and distances. But the baseball team experienced a slump.
A slump in any spring sport here is clearly a disappointment. But a slump in baseball is really painful. Maybe this is just the little boy in me talking. But indulge me.
Baseball, at Cobberville and elsewhere, tends to be the measure of a spring sporting season. Perhaps it's because of our winning baseball tradition. More likely, it's because baseball is simply baseball. With apologies to the NBA, baseball is still America's game.
Other spring sports obviously have their own passionate and well-deserved following. And, given my occupational obligation to treat all Cobber teams with a degree of even-handedness, I have to be careful about implying that some sports are more "major" than others.
But, hey, we're talking baseball.
Concordia's fiesty baseball coach, Bucky Burgau, spends the fall and winter listening to the rest of us talk about how important our particular sports are. All the while he retains his self-assured boyish smile, which says, "Dream on guys, I still coach the national pastime." He's right, of course.
Just a few days ago I was sitting with my 12-year-old son, a devout baseball fanatic, watching one of the Twins' no-name starters get shelled. I innocently suggested, "These guys are going to be playing baseball almost every day between now and October. Don't you think there must be times when they just get a little sick of baseball day after day?"
My son looked at me and lowered his eyebrows. "Dad," he said, shaking his head in disgust, "It's impossible to get sick of baseball."
A young boy's dreams of being a professional athlete most often begin and end with baseball. A young boy does not have to count on an over-active thyroid to sustain a dream of playing in the Majors. Normal-sized people play baseball.
Nearly all of us have pretended at some time that, with a break or two, we could have made it in the Bigs. (I still think of my last official game, as a sixth-grade little leaguer. I pitched a no-hitter. We lost 13-8. I had some control problems. But thought I pitched well.) Our affection for the game has endured strikes and scandals and cultural changes which always seemed destined to relegate the sport to obscurity. Baseball's pastoral image is now starkly at odds with our modern passion for continual action and semi-violence.
Baseball's thoughtful pace conflicts with our collective 20-second attention span. And baseball's unbroken connection with its own history seems almost quaint in a nation so otherwise-ignorant of its past. Yet baseball endures.
Our love for baseball, with its simple timeless appeal and endless layers of complexity, is shared across the political spectrum and throughout most of the Americas.
George Will and Nicaragua come to mind. George Will and Nicaragua, despite all their deadly differences of opinion, both love baseball.
Will, a political columnist with frequently-noxious ideas as to how the world's less prosperous citizens should be treated, is enchanted with baseball. He has written a baseball treasure called, "Men at Work." It is a delightful collection of stories and history and analysis about the boys of summer and their game. Will should be encouraged to keep writing about things he understands, like baseball.
A few summers ago I had a chance to do some writing in Nicaragua, the country which George Will and his beloved Contra terrorists have bludgeoned for so long. Perhaps if Will had taken the time to visit Nicaragua and take in a few games he could have found some common ground to stop the war. Who knows how he would have reacted had he learned that his Contras blew up the nation's only bat-making factory? My son, the baseball fanatic, was initially reluctant to trade a season of little league ball for the uncertainties of a summer in Nicaragua. He ended up with more at-bats that summer than Tony Gwynn.
Once the kids in our Managua neighborhood found out he played baseball, which took about 45 minutes, differences of race and language and nationality became instantly meaningless. Endless baseball ensued.
They argued when chosing sides. They argued about strike calls and phantom tags. They laughed at each other's errors. They pointed their bats at the fence with Ruth- like cockiness. They made Willie Mays-type over-the- shoulder catches. They argued about the value of baseball cards. They were friends for life. Fellow ball players.
In one of our family's several visits to Managua's main ballpark, a modern 10,000 seat stadium, we arrived a little late for the first game of a twin-bill. The Cuban All-Stars were up a couple runs on the Costa Rican All-Stars. Nicaragua was to play Panama in the second game, part of a week-long 4-team tournament.
The huge crowd was chewing on the excellent Cuban team, baiting them unmercifully in the finest baseball tradition. Since Cuba had been so supportive of Nicaragua in recent years, while Costa Rica had been at odds with the Sandinistas, my wife and I wondered if the anti-Cuban sentiment in the crowd might be a hint of shifting political winds. We asked a fan behind us, "Why the anti-Cuban cheering?"
"Don't you know anything?" the fan said in anguish.
"Cuba has to lose tonight for Nicaragua to get into the championship game tomorrow night." Some things transcend politics.
Back here in Cobberville the same anguish accompanies a Cobber slump. But baseball demands that we take the long view and maintain our hope. The Cobs won three of four over the weekend and last year the they won 10 of their last 11.
There could still be joy in Cobberville this spring.
But, if not, there's always next year. Baseball is like that.
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