The Old Ball Game
Is it just me, or does anybody else get just a little choked up when they sing Take Me Out to the Ball Game? In a packed ballpark, especially during an exciting game, does this seventh inning stretch ritual touch a bit of emotion while it engenders a hankering for peanuts and Cracker-Jack? What might be going on inside us at that moment? I do not wish to complicate your next baseball experience with my musings, but I think there might be a hint here of something deeper in ourselves as well as a clue to personal and social healing and wholeness (now that’s a pretentious claim for a blog post!!).
Many people think that life has gotten excessively complicated and that they cannot understand the rules anymore; things they were sure of are less certain, even unreliable. Whether we are surrounded by divisive issues like climate change, gender identity, and the viability of democracy or those of instant replay, ghost runners, and Statcast, we find a sense of reassurance in the fact that it is still “one, two, three strikes, yer out!” This is a world we understand, one in which we feel comfortable, know where we stand.
The fact that this song celebrates the striking out rather than a game-winning grand slam provides another hint of why this tradition endures and why it can be personally meaningful. The strikeout is a universally understood idea, we all know what it feels like to fail. The best hitters make an out more often than they get on base; the fact that a .300 hitter is seen as excellent shows that baseball is a game in which failure at the plate is the norm. Hank Aaron hit 755 home runs in his career but struck out 1383 times. Charlie Brown and Mighty Casey both went down swinging. When we sing, “one, two, three strikes, yer out!” we might envision ourselves as the fire-balling pitcher notching another K or the animated umpire ringing up the batter, but inside we know we are the chump slumping back to the dugout.
And that is exactly the point. The drunken lout two rows back, the young couple on a date, the know-it-all loudmouth spouting their opinions and berating opposing players and “blue,” the mother instructing her daughter on the finer points of the game, the three guys with offensive messages on their T-shirts, the person I care about who is there with me, all of us have failed, and very possibly more often than we have triumphed. In this moment the differences fade just a bit as we sing together in the middle of the seventh, celebrating both a game and common human experience.
I don’t care if I ever get back!
Baseball stadium photo by Jacob Rosen on Unsplash