For those of us who divine baseball’s mythic attributes, it is significant that both umpires and players — to stop the action — call, “Time.” They do not say, “Time out.” For there has been no time, no clock, no urgency in baseball.
Until very recently — as impatient, action-addicted, media-serving modernists have taken measures to “speed up the game” — baseball moved at a pace and place outside of time. It is a game whose drama depends as much upon anticipation (and mental gamesmanship) as play — although it is also a sport of exquisite human dexterity, grace and power. Split-second timing. And beauty.
Just watch for a moment the parabolic arc of a long fly ball: the launch, the loft, the flying white sphere ascending, the summit reached, and then the inevitable pull of gravity back to earth. The rapid descent, the fleet fielders running down those moonshots. Or picture acrobatic infielders with rocket arms nailing a runner at first. The elegant geometry of 90-foot baselines, 400-foot fences, the precision measures from pitcher’s mound to home. Hundred-mile-an-hour fastballs. The archetypal human narrative replayed each time a runner bolts from the batter’s box and circles the basepaths in hopes of making it all the way back home safely.
Baseball is a game played at leisure, on ballfields set apart from life’s tribulations, on emerald expanses under sunny skies. Traditionally, the only marks of time — one of baseball’s fundamental appeals — have been its jubilant arrival with spring, its languid journey through the soft days of summer, its wistful, autumnal conclusion as days shorten, the air chills and winter closes in.
There is little doubt that baseball is an anachronism; in many ways it is countercultural. It is not a game for the accelerations, media frenzies and beefy violence of 21st-century America. It is a game best suited to radio, with companionable voices heard nightly and unfolding scenarios easily conceived by apt imaginations.
Yet still, for some of us, baseball is in our very blood, it simmers in the deep recesses of our hearts, the sandlots and dreams of childhood, idyllic summers of innocence and freedom and heroes so far away they could remain heroic. The lingering sensations of a slide that beats the tag at second. A crisply turned double play. The holy stroke of a pitch hit on the sweet spot.
In this issue we have stories about a priest who abused young boys, a family responding to a father who has chosen assisted suicide, a triathlete who nearly died of COVID-19 and Notre Dame economists who are fighting the straitjackets of poverty, helping the beleaguered poor.
But we also step beyond such crucibles, such onerous times. We have a wonderful story about a game played for the love of it, and a league that began when a couple of guys just wanted to put one game together, one game to rekindle feelings of childhood, a game that has become a 10-team league by appreciating — cherishing in fact — what the game still means to them and how it should be played.
Kerry Temple is editor of this magazine.