Can you feel it? Baseball is happening again. And I couldn’t be more excited. Not because baseball offers an escape from the real world but because baseball offers the most perfect entry into and exploration of it.
Calculated, methodical, strategic, baseball. More than any math, stats, or geometry course, I learned numbers and statistics and reason and logic—and especially angles—from baseball.
Deeply ingrained, socially situated, and historically and culturally relevant, baseball. As much as any history, humanities, or social science course, I learned cultural cues, social stratification, and justice from baseball.
And it’s not always an exact science, social or otherwise. It’s not always smooth. But baseball has a rhythm, a cadence, a process, both as a game, and also as an actor on the American psyche. It is fully grounded in the theory and application and knowledge of statistics, averages, odds, strength, endurance, relationships, trust, nationalism, institution, capitalism, and profoundly embedded cultural norms—for good and for bad.
In the language of a baseball calendar, this past offseason has been for me the most challenging in regard to professional and personal workouts with things like race and racial inequities in American education, health, and housing. And it’s depressingly easy to see the impact of, for instance, 400 years of American racism working into every facet of American life and society today—at the grocery store, on the side of the highway, in the library, mowing the lawn, eating a sandwich.
And baseball is not above or removed from this American setting—for good and for bad. It acts on it and in it; it shapes it and is shaped by it.
And I do love that about baseball.
The Baltimore Orioles, the team I grew up with, start the season this afternoon and I could not be more excited. Enter here your joke about where you believe the Orioles will finish in the standings this year if you want, but I say, even, that for me it isn’t really about that.
Because even as I expect baseball to allow me some measure of a break from the dirty things like American racism and social inequality I see and deal with at work, I also fully expect and appreciate that baseball will reinforce these things, as well.
And because of the fact—rather than in spite of it—that baseball is not above or removed from the social challenges of America, I don’t think I could find a better example of a microcosm of America than baseball.
Because baseball tells an American story that is so much more deliciously complex and exciting than you might imagine, where movies like Sugar and Bingo Long and the Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings are just as important to the canon as Bull Durham and Field of Dreams. Because romanticism on its own is dumb and it lies.
And so I guess this is sort of a self-preservation piece. Because even as I spend today and the next several months cheering or pouting about whatever the Orioles do, I have to remind myself that baseball, like America—because of America—isn’t perfect and that, this season, my expectation for baseball isn’t to take a break or escape from the “real world,” but always to enter into and explore it as completely as possible. Because for as much as baseball has taught me already, there is always still work to do.
And go O’s!