Jewish World Review April 15, 2005 / 6 Nisan 5765

Paul Greenberg

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The long wait, or: Why we hate baseball | It should have been the most hopeful, happiest evening of the year here in little ol' Little Rock. It was certainly one of the most awaited:

Opening Night of the Arkansas Travellers' 2005 season at Ray Winder Field!

(Add crowd noise and an organ playing "Take me out to the ball game . . . .")

New baseball fields have to strive for the retro look that makes parks like Camden Yards in Baltimore so fashionable. But here at Ray Winder, retro comes naturally; the little ballfield goes back to 1932.

Nostalgia is inherent in a pastoral game like baseball, even if it's being played in the middle of the Bronx or on Chicago's South Side. Ray Winder is coated with nostalgia from its wooden seats to the live organ music. (Organ music sounds good only in cathedrals and ballparks.)

It's like stepping back into the '50s. What travel agency can arrange that kind of passage in time? But here it awaits as soon as you pass through the turnstile.

Every opening night is a New Beginning. Far from the dog days of August, here we are in blithe April, when the game is still fresh, the uniforms as crisp as the new paint on the signs that adorn the outfield fence. On a night like tonight, anything seems possible.

For, lo, as it says in the Song of Songs, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone . . . .

Only it isn't, not quite. Maybe that's why the crowd hasn't poured but dribbled in. There was no problem finding a place to park. And on opening night!

Clearly something has gone wrong. The field is covered with those gigantic tarps even by game time, which was supposed to be 7:10. The tyranny of the clock still holds sway inside the old stadium. People are looking at their watches. The spell is broken or, worse, hasn't even taken hold. Faces are turned up to the cloudy sky, not down to the soggy field. Time crawls: 7:15, 7:20, 7:25 . . . .

The little old lady from Little Rock beside me, now retired as a schoolteacher but still conscious of every passing minute, as if she were waiting for the school bell to ring, says she should have brought a book. Talk about sacrilege. It would be like bringing a novel to church.

Now it's 7:30, 7:35 . . . . Finally the tarps come off to cheers, but still no opening pitch. It seems an eternity before the last words of the national anthem are heard: Play ball!

Even then there must be a conference between umpires and managers to discuss ground rules, and the peculiarities of the wire fence that separates Ray Winder from the uncaring world just beyond on Interstate 630. The summit conference goes on and on. The natives grow restless. The first boos of the game are heard, only there's still no game. Why, it took less time than this to give away Eastern Europe at Yalta.

You begin to understand why the late great A.J. Liebling, the old New Yorker's peerless connoisseur of all sport, from winebibbing to politics, despised baseball. He might catch a World Series game now and then, but only if he could fit it in on his way to a boxing match. He considered baseball an exercise in national ennui comparable only to cricket.

Finally, at 7:46, only 36 minutes and an eternity late, the first pitch is thrown. And the clock ceases to matter. Ordinary time is suspended. Indefinitely. Anything becomes possible, including nothing. In the end, the Travs pull it out, 6 to 5. But nothing may matter less in baseball than the score. It's how you get there that counts.

That's what the A.J. Lieblings and time-bound in general fail to appreciate: Once the game begins, what does not happen is at least as important as what does. The play that isn't called, the scenario that doesn't come off, or as A. Conan Doyle would say, the dog that doesn't bark, all matter as much as what does happen, if not more.

The most mentally active part of the game occurs between pitches. Everything on the field has consequences, including the actions untaken. If only we were more alert, we might notice that the same principle applies to other endeavors. Like life.

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JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.

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