America's Favorite Past-Time
April 14, 2012
Can you feel it? Spring is in the air. And we all know what that means. Hey Batter, Batter. It’s time for baseball!
No single person can be credited with the invention of America’s Favorite Past-time. Rather, baseball evolved from the bat and ball games being played in Europe in the 19th century. One such Russian game, called Lapta, traces its roots back to the 14th century. In Lapta, a pitcher throws a ball to a batter whose job it is to run across the field and back again before being struck. These days, players run around a diamond rather than across a stretch of land and other rules have been added, but still, the basic concept of the game is familiar to us.
Rounders, a Tudor-era English game, added the concept of "bases." If the batter made it to a more distant base, he was awarded more points. Again, this isn’t quite the way it works today, but we borrowed ideas, improved upon them, and made them our own. As these examples illustrate, we arrived at baseball gradually. The game we know and love today adopted practices of other popular sports. It evolved over time.
But what is it about baseball that captivates us? Is it the thrill of competition? The smell of the freshly-cut grass? The morale boost that comes from being united with fellow fans in the stands? The promise of victory? What sets it apart from football, soccer, and basketball? For me, it’s the pacing of it. Perception is impossibly important. The batter watches the ball, waits for the perfect arc, considers the angle of his swing and the force and direction that are necessary to keep the ball out of the opposition’s mitts, and afford him the time he needs to make it to first base or beyond. There is commotion, but it is controlled. There’s something very Zen about baseball. When I’m watching a game, there is nothing but the game. But I must also be there. For me, watching a televised baseball game is like looking out the window at the gorgeous day unfolding. I can’t just watch it from behind a screen. I have to be there.
It might therefore seem hypocritical of me to suggest to you a list of books and movies about baseball. I’m going to do it anyway though. And I’m going to argue that reading is different. Reading is not passive. Reading causes your synapses to fire in a way that watching television doesn’t. Words can capture the essence of all things baseball surprisingly well, and for me, they’re surpassed only by the thrill of experiencing it in person. So grab a great book or catch an inspiring flick. Then, go see a Royals game. Check out some awesome Little League action. Or hit the batting cages. You never know when you’re going to need to hit a line drive.
Heat by Michael Lupica
All the Stars Came Out That Night by Kevin King
Double Play by Robert B. Parker
The Natural by Bernard Malamud
The Cuban Prospect by Brian Shawver
Slider by Patrick Robinson
For Love of the Game by Michael Shaara
Bang the Drum Slowly by Mark Harris
The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King
Other Fun stuff:
North Independence Branch