Baseball is back, and, as I do every year—no matter how bad the Padres are—I enjoy re-immersing myself in the game. And, as opposed to our president who argues in this ridiculous interview that talent comes strictly from innate ability and is made manifest on the Social Darwinist proving ground of sport, I know that it’s all about focus and work. Perhaps the most important thing of all is failure that leads to more focus and work and honing one’s craft.
You alone with the thing itself.
On the diamond this cliché holds true: even the best players fail most of the time, sometimes quite badly. You strike out, commit an error, miss a sign, fail to hit the right spot with your pitch.
Thus, players who don’t learn how to fail and rebound from it wash out. In baseball, more than any other sport, grit matters as much as athleticism. You can be fat, slow, and excellent if you master a skill through meticulous labor. You can be small and slight of build and nevertheless bring something to the table. In that way, baseball is still the most democratic game.
It also doesn’t matter where you’re from, and, over the years, baseball has been a game of immigrants, loved as much (perhaps more) throughout Latin America, the Caribbean, Japan, Korea, and other far-flung places. Indeed, today it is the foreign players who are keeping the game alive and well, infusing it with a new generation hungry for the game, dying to make it to the majors and play in some big city they’ve never been to before.
But anyone who has ever been to spring training early and watched practice knows that what unites the players across the game is the minute details of the daily rituals, like prayers said without praying—warming up, taking infield or fly balls, swinging the bat before getting in the cage. Learning how to watch pitchers and plant your feet in the batter’s box. Throwing pitch after pitch in the bullpen. Getting the right grip on the bat.
Surrendering yourself to the game.
And there are the peripheral pleasures that come with the effort—the smell of fresh cut grass, the sound of your feet on the infield dirt, the sun and the wind on your face.
Then there is the mystery of the game, the intangible things that even the veterans may never fully grasp no matter how much one masters the science of the enterprise. What makes you suddenly start seeing the ball? How do you magically discover the right feel in your swing? What makes your stuff nasty one night and nonexistent the next? How do you find the silence in the noise? The grace amidst chaos?
And for the players and the fans, the game is layered with the memory of fields past in little league, the minors, the diamonds of players who watched as a kid. History and nostalgia and timelessness.
And at the ballpark, the crowds and the music and all the colors and random sounds and smells—hot dogs and stale beer, perfume, popcorn, smoke from the grills, and the day or night air. It’s all so loud and full of too much life but sometimes amidst the din and all, everyone is quiet and alone.
Waiting, watching, lost in time, trying to find the heart of the moment.