On Friendship and Baseball
by Gregory Pratt, BaseballEvolution.com
March 6, 2008
I am not sure I trust a man
who does not love the game of baseball, nor do I consider myself unreasonable in
this uncertainty. I do not, after all, expect everyone to know who Richie
Ashburn was or how he inspired the name of the band Yo La Tengo! I don't
expect everyone to have a well-formulated thesis on sabermetrics versus
"traditional" player-analysis, or walks versus singles. I don't expect
everyone to have ranked the top 100 baseball players of all-time. I don't
expect everyone to be an expert on the history or the politics of
baseball. Not at all! But when a man tells me that he does not enjoy the sound
of bat on ball, the feel of a baseball gloved during a good catch, the sight of
a double play turned with perfect grace, I feel as if our relationship is
missing something integral to the human condition. I am being hyperbolic, of
course, because I do have countless friends who do not treasure the
American pastime, but precious little compares to feelings of kinship shared by
those who enjoy a good game of baseball.
Every Saturday, I arrive at
the offices of my college newspaper to copy edit. It is my job and another
passion. One day I entered the room where the paper is printed off and looked
around the space. I am typically a curious man who observes everything around
him, but because this room doubles as the office of a higher-up, I had avoided
any snooping until on this day, I spotted from the corner of my eye a baseball
on the desk and a picture of Pete Rose on the wall. I immediately took a short
break from editing and sent him an email about how great that was, asked a
question or two about his admiration of Rose, and felt a great joy knowing that
I was not the only man at the paper with passion for the game.
Last fall, I attended
several meetings held by a group on my campus called "Rationalists and
Free-Thinkers" out of curiosity as to the nature of their organization. I had
also been having a tête à tête with their leader over a column or two I'd
written for the paper, and I wanted to size him up. At my first meeting, a
professor of philosophy spoke critically on a couple of issues relevant to the
group (the exact issues do not matter) and he mentioned his love of baseball
once or twice or a dozen times, even kidding that opening day should be a
holiday. After the meeting, I approached him, introduced myself and determined
to find out whether or not he was the unpleasant old man of my first impression.
How I got that impression is, like the issues addressed, irrelevant, although
the characterization I'd made would likely make him cringe. See, I had arrived
at this meeting with a predisposition to believe, with just a hint of irony,
that the only people who would attend a RAFT meeting are jerks.
We spoke for about ten
minutes on Sandy Koufax and David Ortiz and steroid scuttlebutt that seems to
have been by-and-large verified by the Mitchell Report. I told him that I
considered Pedro Martinez the best pitcher of all-time (not necessarily the
greatest, however) and then I thanked him genuinely for a good talk. It had been
a pleasant conversation between two people who truly love the game of baseball.
I looked him up that night to thank him again for his time and I asked if he
would be willing to meet me for a discussion on baseball. We now speak about
that great game, about politics, about life and everything else quite often.
Since, I have learned of his work, his philosophies, a little of his life, his
politics, and he of mine, but no matter what subject we are discussing, baseball
is never far from the surface. Once I kidded him, with the modesty that has
become my trademark, "Do you ever think it's funny that two smart men like us
spend so much time thinking and talking about baseball?" Of course not. And for
the record, he is nothing like my first impression.
In high school, I was a
debater in the Chicago Debate League, and a fine one at that. One of my fellow
Baseball Evolution writers was a judge in that league, and I debated before him
once. After the round, he had thanked me for the clarity with which I and my
partner had made our arguments and we slowly but surely became friends, talking
at tournaments about politics and life for awhile, until one day, my increasing
frustrations with my coaches and partner exploded. I took my complaints to him.
I didn't care for the people on my team and never really had, because the
coaches and I had an unnecessarily adversarial relationship that I blame on
them, and my partner was simply not arguing on my level, by my estimation,
although it is not an unreasonable premise. I asked this debate judge during
lunch one day, as an introduction to my frustration, "Do you like baseball?" and
he said, "Are you kidding? I'm a baseball nut!" which satisfied me, and I
continued with my venting. "Sometimes, I feel like Nolan Ryan. No run support,
man. I'm throwing strikes and throwing strikes but my partner just can't pick me
up." He told me he thought it was an apt comparison, and he directed me to this
website. We are still friends, even though he has left the city in which I met
him for another, although he did not leave without saying goodbye and we had a
delightful walk around town. I look forward to the next time we speak and meet
for a game of baseball, because it has been too long, but I will always and have
always felt a bond with him because of these shared hearts.
I could watch baseball at
any level and enjoy it. Little league, semipro, high school, college, minor or
major leagues. It doesn't matter what country it's played in, or who the
participants are, although I do of course closely follow the major and minor
leagues. I don't think I have ever, or will ever, turn down the opportunity to
have a catch or take batting practice. If I could take a hundred ground balls a
day and a hundred flyballs a day, I would. I never get tired about reading about
great players or teams or moments, of listening to the game of baseball, and I
am sure I am not the only one who feels this way about our game. That is why I
write for Baseball Evolution.
Gregory Pratt is a political science student at the University of Illinois at Chicago. His political commentary can be found at the Office of the Independent Blogger and he can be reached at Gregory@baseballevolution.com.