You may have heard that my team – the Washington Nationals – lost last Friday, a loss which ended their season. You may be surprised to know that while disappointed, I can live with that outcome. After 50+ years of watching sports, I find that low expectations are the key to happiness.
In my mind, baseball – with its timeless, cyclical rhythms and its “symbolic and literal journey ‘home’” – contains values and appeal that overshadow mere winning and losing and match the values and appeal we espouse in discussing why old places matter. What touches many in both fields is a sense of the familiar, the building upon the past while adding new meaning today, and a reality that recognizes difficult as well as celebratory history.
A. Bartlett Giamatti – PhD professor in comparative literature, president of Yale University, commissioner of baseball, and a lifelong fan of the Boston Red Sox until his untimely death in 1989 – understood both accomplishment and loss. In A Great and Glorious Game, Giamatti said of baseball,
“It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone.”
The team that defeated my Nats – the Dodgers – had fans during their years of futility in Brooklyn that actually coined the famous cry “Wait ‘til next year.” That resilience – the desire to get up off the mat and try again even in the face of the game’s challenges – is what makes baseball so intriguing for so many. For a game where successful batters fail 7 times out of 10 and even the best teams lose at least 60 games every season, baseball cultivates a sense of humor and makes self-deprecation a survival tool. As New York Mets manager Casey Stengel said to his barber during the team’s hapless early years, “Don’t cut my throat. I may want to do that myself later.”
The stories of the places we love – like the games we love – can help us understand what it means to be fully alive and living in community. Let’s embrace those stories – both celebratory and difficult – and work to hear, understand, and honor the full diversity of the ever-evolving American story. Oh, and as for the Nats, “Wait ‘til next year!”
Have a good week.
More to come…