Another baseball season is upon us.
Count me among those who believe, quite strongly, that baseball transcends the world of sport. It's more than just a game of ingenious design, measured not by the artificial and cruel limits of a clock, but by equal opportunity. It's more than just a symbolic renewal of springtime hope and summer frolic. It is, my friends, life.
Because just like life itself, baseball is boring. Amazingly, stupendously boring.
Understand, I love baseball. Most Americans do. But the reason it resonates so deeply inside all of us has nothing to do with diving catches or late-inning heroics. It's because the game so elegantly captures the essence of human existence.
There are the perfect mathematical borders of its universe. The tiny minutiae of everyday activity that separates the winners from the losers. The constant march toward an undetermined end time, which could come surprisingly soon and feel like a rip-off or march painfully on and on to the bewilderment of all observers.
And, yes, there's the tedium. Oh, the tedium.
Baseball is all about little things that are equal parts uninteresting and critically important. Advancing the runner. Not swinging at a pitch outside the strike zone. Avoiding the double play. Just like in real life. Very rarely do you have an opportunity to hit a dramatic home run or be a hero at work or in life. Usually, your day involves not hitting "reply all" on an email at the office. Or making sure you don't accidentally leave a coffee ring on your boss's $24,000 desk during your annual review.
And baseball has the most human of participants. It's relatable.
In most sports, the players themselves are superhuman. Grotesque caricatures. It's a version of life produced by the same people who brought you the Transformers movie franchise and Megan Fox. NBA players are 7-foot tall freaks with wingspans that can reach from your breakfast buffet in the kitchen to the passenger side window of your minivan in the carport. That's not reality. Nor is the 400-pound professional football player who can lift that van and run it down the street for an oil change.
A baseball player, on the other hand, is a guy who looks like your brother's best friend Brad. Or the shift manager at the factory. And we like that. The NBA and the NFL are places we go to escape life. Baseball is an opportunity to wallow in it.
Or ignore it entirely. Just like real life, you can love it or hate it. You can mentally check out or dig as deep as you want and find your own pleasures within. Want to follow a specific player? Or watch every game your favorite team plays? Want to scour the statistics of every player on every team for all of history and find order amid the chaos? There's comfort to be found in baseball. Just as in real life, there are people who find comfort by collecting stamps or restoring old cars or learning the names of all their grandchildren.
But for most of us, baseball is just there. Sometimes we look up from our iPad solitaire game to see a great play on TV because others are cheering and we don't want to miss something. Sometimes we go weeks without even checking the scores or standings. And sometimes we actually go to a game and get emotionally involved in the outcome, even though it doesn't much matter. Especially if you're a Royals fan like me.
And like real life, a baseball stadium is filled with distractions to keep your mind off the painful boredom that is taking place in front of your very eyes. Cold beer. Fatty foods. Giant screens with non-stop graphics and bite-sized nuggets of entertainment. The line is drawn at cheerleaders, of course. Otherwise there would never be a reason to watch the game itself.
Some would say there's enough beauty down there on the field already. Some would laugh at that notion, of course. But whether it's baseball or life, you'll miss those rare exciting parts if you don't make an effort to look for some kind of joy in the mind-numbing nothingness.
And just like life itself, the worst part about any baseball game is right after it comes to an end. Parking lots are hell.