April 25th, 2019


Play ball!

Paul Greenberg

By Paul Greenberg

Published June 28,2018

Play ball!

By divine decree, the year is divided into two parts: the good old summertime and the offseason. Happily, we in the Northern Hemisphere are now entering the golden months when our world can narrow its focus to the diamond.

There's no doubt it would take considerable legal acumen to explain the infield fly rule as a case study of Anglo-American jurisprudence in studied action or the absence thereof.

I saw my first major league game at the old original Comiskey Park in Chicago, and just sat there watching Connie Mack (formerly Cornelius McGillicuddy) in the visitors' dugout, signaling plays with his scorecard. Nary a word did he speak, yet he communicated with rare eloquence and to great effect. In my old age, I cannot recall who won the ballgame that day. For the game itself was all that matters. And still is.

No wonder the late great Richard S. Arnold was a great baseball fan, for it is the thinking man's game. Those who deride it as all too slow don't appreciate or even apprehend how much of the game takes place between pitches, as the involved fan thinks of all the possibilities waiting to unfold. Much as a chess player might consider his next move in a world full of alternate endings -- and/or beginnings. Only the amateur would limit himself in such a rich universe of manifold starts, finishes and thoughtful pauses to consider them.

A mind is a terrible thing to waste on a brutish alternative like football to baseball as the national pastime. And it is not a good indication of what the future holds for this country when football usurps the place of baseball when it comes to thinking about our national destiny. It's a sure sign not of progress but decadence.

Just as Great Britain's heroic encounters on the battlefield were first rehearsed on the playing fields of Eton, so Napoleon Bonaparte's overweening ambitions and fatal misjudgments were first unveiled by his choice of recreations. Apparently he had none, so obsessed was he by unhealthful dreams of conquest. And it would take more than a whiff of grapeshot to reveal their all-consuming vanity.

Beware the man who has no room for recreation in his thoughts. Winston Churchill turned out to be a fully engaged Sunday painter when he wasn't mobilizing the English language and sending it into victorious battle. And so it is with the greats of history, who take their hobbies with them when they aren't waging battles to save civilization.

Recreation, lest we forget, is a word stemming from the concept of re-creation, and that is just what the ardent fan of this most beautiful of games does when he is fully engaged in watching it. Nothing else matters at the time, or should. The rosters of the opposing sides have long since been forgotten by all but statisticians, yet that particular game stays alive and vibrant in never-fading memory, as if it were being played right now. Right down to the hard feel of the bleachers, the roar of the crowd and its indelible memory.

So, yes, let's play ball, though baseball is scarcely child's play but as serious a preoccupation as grownups can get when they are truly blessed.

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Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer-winning editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.