Baseball appears as a simple game to common folk. However, the assumption is just to the casual fan.
"God made baseball easy, but man made it hard," T.J. Gamba once said to me. The quote itself only makes it harder to figure out this quirky and silly game. In the root of this quote, however, is a simple but very complex understanding of how the game itself has come to be America’s favorite pastime.
"Baseball is almost the only orderly thing in a very unorderly world. If you get three strikes, even the best lawyer in the world can’t get you off," Bill Veeck once said.
Maybe it’s the tantalizing smells of Major League parks. The smell of hot dogs and fresh cut grass or a fresh brew that even your nose can smell the price of as the Lincolns disappear from your wallet, two or three at a time. It could be the smell of pine tar or a hot and humid Washington D.C. summer night. From the smell of a Philly cheesesteak to Seattle sushi and all the Major League cities’ favorite tastes in between.
Sounds ring throughout the stadiums like echoes of great players who once paced the hallowed grounds. The crack of the bat as Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron gracefully trot around the diamond. Mitts popping as Nolan Ryan and Sandy Koufax fire fastballs past another innocent victim.
The cry of children begging Ken Griffey Jr. and Derek Jeter to autograph a baseball they caught in batting practice. It’s the sound of the umpire yelling ball, strike, safe or out. The vendor pacing through the bleacher seats begging you to buy a hot dog or the day’s program. There is that sound the turnstile makes as you enter the ballpark followed by the beep of the scanner as the usher checks to see if you belong there.
Oh, you belong there alright. Where else would you want to be?
Then again maybe it’s all the lingo that draws America to this obscure game. There are ducks on the pond, deuces wild, can of corn, chin music, gopher ball, moon shot, pepper, twin-killing, Texas Leaguer, rubber game, tools of ignorance, Baltimore chop, yakker and Uncle Charlie.
"In no sport are nicknames more pervasive than baseball," George Gmelch once wrote. There’s "The Bambino" to "The Human Rain Delay", "Iron Man" to "Pops", and "Little and Big Poison" just to name a few.
There are great team nicknames, too. The Yankees had the "Murderer’s Row" in 1927. The 1934 Cardinals "Gashouse Gang," The "Big Red Machine" of the early 1970s Reds teams, the Phillies "Whiz Kids" in 1950 and the Pirates "We are Family Team" of 1979.
The great cathedrals of baseball that lure us to this grand spectacle where once inside you realize all they have in common is the diamond. It is that palace they call home. From the Chavez Ravine to Pesky’s pole, Monument Park to that out of place hill in Houston. There’s the green monster and the ivy-draped walls of Wrigley. The crazy altitudes in Denver where the baseballs are stored inside a humidor before the game since 2002. There is that seemingly endless foul territory out in Oakland.
Maybe it’s that Sunday afternoon in late August when there is nothing else to do. It could be those long October nights that sometimes leave you in November. Those long dark days of World War I, The Great Depression, World War II, The Cold War, The Korean War and The Vietnam War, where the nation was down and trouble brewed throughout the world. Yeah it’s all those dark days in American History when baseball was there like a father would be for his son guiding us through it all and helping us find a way just to pass the time.