“Baseball has been very, very good to me!” That line, spoken with a thick Dominican accent sometime back in the 1970s, is legendary, if only because so many can repeat it with conviction. Not just players, owners and agents, either. Baseball is something closely aligned with the best, most generous psyche of the entire American experience.
Baseball is inherently democratic, especially since the color line was broken after World War II. It is the only major team sport where purely physical attributes often do not determine who wins and who loses.
It is the “national pastime.” Not so much a sport, it is a “pastime,” a festival when people, fans that is, can be as engaged as they chose, or not. They can sit on a nice day and do crossword puzzles or load up on hot dogs. They can play hookey from work by taking paperwork from the office for an afternoon game.
It is not “destruction derby.” The fans do not come to sit on the edge of their seats looking for violence and injury. It is not blood lust. It is civility. It is fun.
By the same taken, and for the same kinds of reasons, baseball is what it is by being filled with a reverent sense of history. Many Americans measure their lives by the last time their team made the World Series, or their favorite player won the batting title. Baseball is a benevolent, even affectionate fellow-traveler in life, a companion no matter what. Like a dog.
Its karma is the best. There were some years when things got out of hand, like the steroids madness. But mostly, all is back to normal now.
Voted the best baseball moment in history by fans was the night that the Orioles’ Cal Ripken broke Lou Gehrig’s all-time consecutive game streak in September 1995. First came the night he tied Gehrig, and the big number 2130 on a tarp on the right field warehouse wall was rolled down. The next night, the new record was set, awaiting only enough innings to ensure the same was official before play was stopped, and a beaming Ripken waved to cheering fans as he trotted around the outfield.
The moment meant so much because of the 56 years of history embodied in it. Gehrig’s streak ran from 1925 to 1939, and the 56 years that separated 1939 from Ripken’s moment made it so special.
Now the Washington Nationals have done something that hasn’t been seen in the nation’s capital in an even longer time. 1933 was the last time a Washington major league baseball team made it to a post-season game, 79 years ago. The Nats did it Sept. 20 when they secured a post-season “wild card” berth, but it meant a lot more when they did it by clinching the division title this Monday to go in as champions, second to none.