Baseball, mythology and spring

Baseball field


It’s that time of the year again.
The fields are clear.  The chalk lines will be laid out soon.

There’s more than one kid who’s sitting in a bedroom, glove in hand, repeatedly throwing a ball into the pocket.  The thwack, thwack echoing each time the ball smacks into the worn leather.

I’ve drafted my fantasy team.  Listened to a few spring training games.  Thought about when I might make it down to the Bronx.

It’s almost time.

Baseball’s almost back.

Baseball never really left, actually.  It just went south for the winter, into the somewhat more lively ballparks of Panama, Dominican Republic, and the other nations hosting Winter League ball.  Those folks who live in the southern part of the US might have taken a week or two off to rest, maintain the field a bit, clean the uniforms.

And if you’re looking at baseball from the perspective Major League Baseball would like you to view it — that it’s now the “world’s game” — baseball runs 365.

But baseball can’t escape its roots in the northern half of the United States.  It’s a sport tied tightly to the traditional agricultural cycle.  In the spring you plant.  Summer, you tend.  In fall, you hopefully harvest a pennant.  And then things shut down.  The fields lie fallow.

And, with the coming of spring, baseball comes again.  And, like Persephone returning to the world of the living, everything is good again.  You get to start again.

On opening day everyone is undefeated.  The season stretches out before you, beckoning with promise.  There’s no hurry.  There’s 162 games to go.

It’s hard to explain the mythological pull of baseball better than Field of Dreams.  Based in part on the book Shoeless Joe, the protagonist, an Iowa farmer named Ray Kinsella, plows under one of his corn fields to build a baseball field for reasons he can’t explain.  His efforts to do so lead him into a classic quest story, where he leaves his home, travels across the country to take a reclusive writer to a game at Boston’s Fenway Park, and returns to find his field inhabited by the ghosts of baseball legends from before he was born.

In the film’s climax, Ray, almost bankrupt, is faced with a choice.  If he sells the farm and plows under the field, he can continue to live there with his family.  But if he insists on keeping the field, he will lose the farm to foreclosure. His daughter suggests to him that “people will come” to see the ball players.  The writer, played by James Earl Jones, picks up this theme in a speech immediately familiar to anyone who’s seen this film:

Spring in the US officially started March 20.  But for me, and a lot of other people, spring begins on Monday, April 5, the traditional opening day of the baseball season.

I’m ready.


One thought on “Baseball, mythology and spring

  1. I drive by Ed Smith Stadium (new home of the Orioles) on my way to work every day and, even though they have a game today (away against the Yankees in Tampa) and a game tomorrow (against the Mets at Ed Smith — I’LL BE THERE!!!!), several rather large United vans were in the parking lot.

    We’re almost there, and I certainly am ready.

    PS — I love Field of Dreams too. I remember seeing it on the big screen when it first came out and knowing that I had to own it the minute it came out on VHS. My father refused to watch it for years because he said he hates baseball movies. But one year, on Father’s Day no less, my brother and I convinced him to watch it. By the time Kevin Costner asks his dad for a catch, my dad’s eyes were welling up with tears (as were ours). It was a great father/son/daughter moment (even though my brother and I were in our 30s at the time).

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