How does someone who doesn’t follow sports fill their time? Do they read more? Take long walks? Are they more productive? Instead of worrying about the next result, do they live free of anxiety? It must be a peaceful existence.
What would you say to a stranger if you didn’t have sports? It’s a perfect way to talk without saying anything. It’s a bond you can share when they pass with your team’s logo, or playful ribbing if it’s a rival’s. It’s a long thread that binds you to people you’ve never met, or never will meet.
Obsession is not unique, it’s just rarely so ubiquitous. The lover of mezzo-sopranos in opera has an understandably limited community to find.
In a culture that is growing ever more fractured, when else is there such large-scale experience? Lost was supposedly the TV event of a generation, yet it didn’t earn any significant place on the all-time watched list. More people watched the end of Mr. Belvedere. The book of the season last year was Freedom, yet it barely cracks a million copies shipped. Culture is being diffused over a larger area, with more content washing in to fill the gaps.
Sport is the ultimate middlebrow activity, but it does require more from the consumer than other types of content. Listening to whatever is at the top of the iTunes download chart requires nothing, and gives little in return. You can let it wash over you, and barely understand how the music is made because it barely is. Sport is middlebrow that mimics the demands of a higher activity. It requires conquering.
Baseball’s a game that demands a commitment. A season that stretches out over months and over three seasons, with a game every day, is not something to be taken lightly. As the days grow longer, stretching out before snapping back again on the cruel march toward winter, baseball rewards the dedicated.
Baseball is also a game that encourages hyperbole, but sometimes a home run is simply that. "The Shot Heard Round the World" might have broken the hearts of Flatbush, and galvanized book sales for nostalgic, aging writers, but it is not really anything more than a short home run. We’d like to believe it was the symbol of something larger; if you’re from Brooklyn it’s that good guys finish last. We’d like to say when the Red Sox finally beat the Yankees on the way to a World Series win it’s good triumphing over evil. But it’s really one rich team beating another.
We dilute what baseball is because it isn’t about the game. We have the game for eternity if we want it. The sports talk is an attempt at connection; because we are social animals and true connection is hard, sports becomes the bridge. The daily boxscore allows coworkers to have something more than their dreary work to chat about. It binds relatives together in collective agony. It provides color to a monochromatic experience. It is the thread that binds, even as life unwinds.
All we want is a meaningful life. But for now we have baseball.