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.