The Super Bowl is over, and pitchers and catchers report to spring training in less than two weeks. I just finished Roger Angell's book "Game Time", a collection of essays over the past two decades. Angell is the fiction editor of "The New Yorker" magazine, and has made his mark with insiteful and cogent essays on baseball since the early '60s. He loves the sport, but he also has much to say beyond just what happens within the white lines. This is from a 1992 column, in which he talks about his father:
[My father] had only limited financial success as a Wall Street lawyer, but that work allowed him to put in great amounts of time with the American Civil Liberties Union, which he served as a long-term chairman of its national board. Most of his life, I heard him talk about the latest issues or cases involving censorship, Jim Crow laws, voting rights, freedom of speech, racial and sexual discrimination, and threats to the Constitution; these struggles continue to this day, God knows, but the difference back then was that men and women like my father always sounded as if such battles would be won in the end. The news was always harsh, and fresh threats to freedom immediate, but every problem was capable of solution somewhere down the line. We don’t hold such ideas anymore – about our freedom or about anything else. My father looked on baseball the same way; he would never be a big-league player, or even a college player, but whenever he found a game he jumped at the chance to play and to win.
If this sounds like a romantic or foolish impulse to us today, it is because most of American life, including baseball, no longer feels feasible. We know everything about the game now, thanks to instant replay and computerized stats, and what we seem to have concluded is that almost none of us are good enough to play it. Thanks to television and sports journalism, we also know everything about the skills and financial worth and private lives of the enormous young men we have hired to play baseball for us, but we don’t seem to know how to keep their salaries or their personalities within human proportions. We don’t like them as much as we once did, and we don’t like ourselves as much, either. Baseball becomes feasible from time to time, not much more, and we fans must make prodigious efforts to rearrange our profoundly ironic contemporary psyches in order to allow its old pleasure to reach us. My father wasn’t naïve; he was lucky.
Are we actually hindered by too much knowledge sometimes? Do we become so overwhelmed by the cacaphony of voices, facts, opinions, and news that they become a hurdle to building our own paths? The incoming barrage becomes so daunting, that we no longer want to play?
We just want to play a game. The fact that others play it on a larger stage, and do it so much better than us, shouldn't keep us from having our own fun.