It’s spring and opening week is here and that makes me very happy. Baseball helps me live. It’s perhaps the best American manifestation of the kind of daily ritual that enables us to achieve a small portion of the balance and harmony we need to provide ballast against the chaos of the world. Whether it’s playing the game or simply contemplating it, baseball provides one with precisely the kind of focused yet purposeless activity that can take you out to the ballgame and into the heart of the moment.
It’s the stillness at the heart of the game that I love, the empty space out of which motion and grace emerge–the pregnant nothing that gives birth to the artful something. And baseball, like art, is gorgeously useless and inefficiently slow.
Perhaps that slowness is why baseball has given ground to the more brutal, time-driven, managerially efficient game of football. We go from the Taylorized, competitive realm of the corporate world to a gladiatorial weekend on the gridiron that celebrates many of the same values.
We move too fast and are too distracted for the grand old game, but that’s precisely why we need it. What people find boring about baseball is what’s missing in their lives—unstructured time dictated by their actions rather than the tyranny of measured time.
But if we can let go of our anxiety and unnatural hurry long enough to settle in, there is much to be gained from a day at the ballpark. As Andrew Schelling puts it in “Is it Baseball or is it Zen?”:
[I]s there any American piece of turf that shares a closer kinship with the meditation hall than the baseball park? Is there a mind in which the two diamonds—that of Buddhist enlightenment and that of the ballfield—are identical?
I think of this a lot as I help coach my son’s little league team and talk to him about finding the mental zone between too much caution and too much heedlessness in the batter’s box and on the mound. Indeed, watching kids learn to play ball holds many lessons. Schelling again notes that:
Children approach baseball as a practitioner approaches meditation—I mean, it is not preparation for anything, it is not practice. They pursue the endless perfectibility of form. Just as in Zen you sit to be a sitting buddha, children when they play baseball aren’t on their way somewhere. They play ball to be ballplayers.
And that’s what I tell my kid before he goes up to bat. Take a deep breath; lock in. See the ball; hit the ball.
When he’s pitching–just step and throw. Hit the glove. Breathe, relax, and focus on the thing itself.
As Thoreau would say, the secret is “simplicity, simplicity, simplicity.”
Sure, it’s true that in both baseball and life we’ll fail most of the time, but if we keep at it, even the most amateur among us will achieve those rare moments of perfect grace when it all comes together and we just do it right.
In the big picture, as we march toward death, that’s all we have—the gift of the chance to play and, once in a while, do it beautifully.
Doug Porter says
And the Padres beat the Dodgers! Life is good
bob dorn says
If Buddha had been a jock he’d have been a marathoner.
“Perhaps that slowness is why baseball has given ground to the more brutal, time-driven, managerially efficient game of football.”
Though baseball isn’t meant to be a fast brutal game it has its occasional moments. When you’re the catcher standing in front of home plate with a runner charging at you things can get gnarly.
Micaela Porte says
Baseball is the game most closely related to life, mostly a lot of standing around and waiting for your turn, but you better pay attention, because when there is action, you wanna catch it….
Frances O'Neill Zimmerman says
One of the greatest lessons of kids’ baseball is learning to “shake it off” when they fail and
move on to the next play, the next at-bat, the next game. Winning and losing are much less important when there are endless opportunities to try again, to improve, to get it right.
Stephanie Mood says
“It’s our game, the American game. It will repair our losses and be a blessing to us.” That it is! Let the season begin, and go Padres!
Jay Powell says
Thanks for great start of spring and baseball. Indeed, the waiting, the calm, then the immediacy for action. Some observations from a former senior league coach:
Our oldest son, home from college agrees to coach his younger brother’s team near the end of the Little League season. The President of the league gets in his face because he won’t play his son. Just as I stand up, adrenalin pumping he tells him: “I am the coach. You sit down or leave.” Parents can have a lot to learn from the stands, but can really learn more on the field, helping out.
Its start of the season and there is no coach for the Mid City Senior Majors team. I am volunteered. Fortunately I have an assistant who really knows baseball and coached the year before. I learn more about baseball in those few months than years of back lot, “dirt ball” I played as a kid. And more about those great kids. In the All Star playoffs we are down to our last out. Count is 0-2 on kid who is not so good at bat. My younger son is on third. Takes a huge lead. Pitch. Runs for home. He is called out on a clear tie goes to the runner. Game over folks. Really proud of those kids.
Later that summer, I am catching in practice and finally see the ball curve. OMG! What an awesome thing to spin a ball throwing at the catcher and have it suddenly make a turn before your very eyes. Quick, grab it!
Whoops, Padres on. Gotta Go.