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Chou: There is still magic in America’s Pastime

Curtis Chou, Columnist

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Two weeks ago, I sat in the dimness of Cahn Auditorium, smiling wryly as I watched some of the most accomplished performers on our campus champion the sport of basketball while asserting that “no one cares about baseball anymore.” As a longtime fan of baseball, I have grown used to the eye rolls and the mockery that follow the proclamation of baseball’s epithet as America’s National Pastime. It once might have been, people say, but not anymore. The United States revolves around football now, or even basketball. Nothing is quite as exciting as the crushing hits and blazing speed displayed on the gridiron or the high flying dunks seen on the hardwood. Baseball is too slow, too boring; its athletes aren’t athletic enough; and worst of all, “baseball is a dying sport.” Even the Waa-Mu Show managed to get a dig in.

I admit it takes a certain temperament to watch baseball. Because Major League Baseball games are a near nightly occurrence, they aren’t easy to follow and are even harder to consistently watch. Perhaps the sports’ most egregious offense is its length. Sometimes the games drag on, occasionally doubling the normal regulation length of nine innings to 18 innings or beyond.

Yet taking all of the critiques levied against the sport into consideration, I can only conclude that those who mock the game are not watching the same one I am.

Instead of the constant hollering that threatens to burst the eardrums of the spectators at a football game, a pervasive buzz blankets the stadium throughout most the game. It is at once a family affair, a reunion of old friends, a gaggle of schoolboys and a couple’s date, each group engrossed in their own stories and lives despite their close proximity.

But suddenly, as if by command, every eye swivels and stares as the pitcher steps into his windup. The knee goes up high, and the foot swings forward. The elbow snaps, and the ball slings from his fingers towards home plate.

Crack. The ball jumps off the bat like a demon released from hell and screams into the summer night sky.

There is a moment of murmured anticipation as the ball hovers alone in the sky. But then as the ball falls, the crowd roars like cannon echoing across the battlefield. People scream and applaud, the foghorn sounds, the music blares and the player trots around the diamond, sometimes with his arms up but most of the time unassuming. This is spectacle. This is magic.

Few other sports offer the dynamic boom of a baseball game, from the calm buzz to the roar that shakes concrete. All of it is absorbed into the temples of history that dot the country, from the hallowed green walls of Fenway Park to the age-old vines of Wrigley Field and the majesty of Yankee Stadium. Baseball is a homage to the past, filled with heroes and moments steeped in the glaze of tradition. When school lets out for the summer, sons join their fathers and grandfathers at the old ballpark, each carving their own place in stadium lore.

Baseball is a game that pits one team against another, more so in a battle of wits than one of physicality. In football, the quarterback must be both the hero and the star. There is no such idolatry in baseball. A pitcher may dominate, but only about once every five days. A catcher may hit 30 home runs, but he cannot run down the ball in the outfield grass. At any time, the most unassuming player can stalk to the batter’s box under the watchful eye of 50,000 critics and deliver the walk-off hit, carving himself a small slice of glory.

In basketball, a team down by 20 could be defeated by the clock even if momentum was pushing them hard to the finish. All they needed was five more minutes. There is no such pressure in baseball. It is a game that is not over until it is over. Down eight runs with two outs in the ninth inning, not all hope is lost. As unlikely as it seems, there is no clock to tell them when they must give up.

But baseball isn’t a perfect game. There are issues that need to be corrected and fine-tuned, especially regarding the use of technology. And yes, youth baseball participation is declining, which is a problem that must be solved in the future if the sport is to be preserved. Most people already say football is America’s national pastime, not baseball. Yet millions of fans continue to flock to stadiums each year to watch the most unique of major American sports. The sport with no clocks. The sport with enough scoring that it isn’t boring but not too much that it’s a commonplace affair. The sport that is as much mental as it is physical. The sport of spectacle and tradition, filled with iconic players and moments. If this is a dying sport, then heaven is a field of freshly mowed grass and infield dirt.

Curtis Chou is a Communication senior. He can be reached at curtischou2015@u.northwestern.edu. If you want to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com.

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