The sky is blue, the birds are singing, and a young (at heart) man’s thoughts turn to baseball.
Maybe I’ve just been wasting my time all these years following baseball. But I like to think that it taught me the following:
10. Appreciation of history and tradition
9. Resilience, and acceptance of defeat
8. How individuals work in teams
7. Critical thinking
6. Love of stats — and the skills to use them and detect when others abuse them
5. Appreciation of randomness, and of our instinct to read patterns into such randomness
4. Acceptance of the unknowable
1. Love of excellence
You may notice that many of the above fall into the realm of realizing what we can and can’t know, promise, or do.
When you hear overconfidence, unjustified certainty, and impulsiveness, the odds are good that you’re not hearing a baseball fan.
When you hear somebody take a few coincidences and declare it a pattern, it’s a mind untrained by baseball.
And when you hear the arrogance of a know-it-all who thinks he can do it all himself, maybe he likes basketball, but not baseball.
I still remember being at Shea Stadium with my father watching Dwight Gooden’s 100th win, and my annoyance at my father for not admitting that Dwight was an absolute certainty to reach the Hall of Fame. Almost 20 years later I was fortunate to be back at the same stadium — for the last time — watching with my wife as Johan Santana won his 100th game. In some ways, I appreciated Santana’s achievement more, knowing how special it is to watch a player maintaining excellence.
Baseball is the sport of the 162 game season, where the best hitters are retired 70% of the time, and the best teams lose 40% of their games. It’s the game where knowledge and traditions are passed from one generation to another. I was recently at a Knicks game where they honored their greatest players of each decade. I never heard of the first few. That doesn’t happen in baseball.
Each young fan watches a player hit 3 home runs in his first 4 games and is sure he’ll hit at least 30 for the season. He gets so emotionally attached to his team that he greatly exaggerates their chances. And he learns. And he comes back the next year with the same hopes but with a more realistic understanding of the odds.
The classic baseball poem is Casey at the Bat, the story of the poignant failure so brilliantly re-enacted a few years ago by Carlos Beltran.
Baseball, like life, establishes chaos, failure, ignorance, and darkness as the norm, and success and joy as that beautiful, special exception to be celebrated. Most people find that depressing. Baseball fans (except those soulless creatures from the Bronx) wouldn’t have it any other way. Baseball demands you give it all your passion, but without losing control. Dream great dreams but bounce back when they fail. Be part of a team but stand alone at the plate. It’s a game of words (does any other sport have Casey Stengel, Yogi Berra, and Damon Runyan?) and numbers, passion and patience, past, present, and future. The game where parents and children bond in a tradition. And all who partake are enriched.
So go take your boss and your team, or your sons and your daughters, out to the ballgame. You’ll all be better off for it.