Baseball: More Than Just Our National Pastime

Frank NappiSpecial ColumnistMarch 20, 2012

It may just be spring training ball, but the writer wouldn't have it any other way
It may just be spring training ball, but the writer wouldn't have it any other wayJ. Meric/Getty Images

Winter has been long—it always is.

True, this year there was less snow in many regions, and Mother Nature’s usual penchant for heartless bluster was replaced with an inexplicable benevolence that warmed our thermometers in record fashion.

The holidays were also pleasant. Thanksgiving was warm and festive, including a meal replete with all the standard fare, and December saw St. Nicholas arrive in fine stead with plenty of goodwill and gifts for all.

Yet somehow, amidst all wintry merriment, I found myself on many occasions seated by my living-room window, staring out vacantly at the moribund landscape.

Brown grass, barren trees, flowerless dirt and empty streets echoed my inner restlessness. The days passed with interminable slothfulness, and on more than one occasion I thought I would just surrender to the burgeoning emptiness filling my soul. 

But still I sat vigilantly, dutifully—despite my wife’s lamentations and more than one intimation regarding the need for professional intervention—waiting for its arrival.

It seemed it would never get here.  Tick, tock, tick, tock. And then it came—as suddenly as the appearance of the row of purple crocuses winking from the previously dormant flowerbeds. Just like that. It was back. And it brought with it a warmth and unbridled optimism that has buoyed my resolve once again.

Baseball hibernates, but it always awakens. 

And with this rebirth comes a rekindling in all of its dutiful minions, a renewed sense of innocence, hope and enthusiasm that simultaneously evokes a sense of nostalgia while ushering in a steady succession of limitless possibilities for the immediate future.

But why? Why does the advent of another baseball season possess such mesmerizing allure—more so than the anticipation engendered by the start of a new football or basketball season?

I believe that the origin of baseball’s ineffable appeal is ensconced in the simple fact that baseball, more than any other sport, is a true microcosm of the human condition. So much of the drama that unfolds between the white lines is tantamount to the daily grind with which all of us struggle.

Our summer idols take the stage just about every day for six consecutive months, and become an integral part of our lives for the duration of that time. We follow their progress religiously, wedded to the ebb and flow of their collective destinies, careful to tune in our televisions or radios so that we do not miss the next chapter in the riveting saga.

And while these boys of summer are on the diamond, they are embroiled in myriad circumstances that remain emblematic of our own day-to-day toiling.

All of us struggle with the fair and foul, and more often than not, the difference between the two is as negligible and capricious as a prodigious fly that hooks to one side of the foul pole in favor of the other.

Reaching base safely, one step at a time, beckons to all who have devoted their lives to the gradual attainment of a lofty goal. 

And which one of us has not, at one moment in time, thwarted the curveballs and bad bounces that are thrown our way and experienced the exhilaration of that one perfect moment in our lives—when the confluence of forces that usually conspire against us abate and we can “touch ‘em all” as everyone else watches us in our moment of unadulterated splendor.

We observe our heroes doing this all the time, season after season, and with every vicarious step we take we revel and celebrate, for we know all too well that unlike the transitory glory unfolding before us, most of our trips to the plate will end a different way—with our bat dragging behind us on the long, laborious walk back to the dugout where we will sit, disappointed but ever hopeful, awaiting our next opportunity.

If one were to question the veracity of this enchantment, all one need do is look around a ballpark sometime. Baseball is working its magic.

It can be seen with fathers and sons, who despite generations between them, sit together sharing a common language.

It’s evident in the young lovers who have only begun to discover the game and just as visible in those couples who have already seen many seasons together. 

And for the children, baseball’s rapture is as limitless as a young imagination allows it to be.

It is this human pageantry that was foremost in my mind while crafting my Mickey Tussler series—tales of a young autistic baseball prodigy who finds an unlikely home with the 1947 minor league Brewers. So much of Mickey’s plight, and the struggles of others around him as well, is reminiscent  of our own. 

More than one reviewer has said that The Legend of Mickey Tussler books go where no baseball novel has ever gone before. True perhaps.

But at its core, however, the books speak to us in the same tongue as this game we love so much. In following Mickey and his teammates through their fictitious season, one may find that  this a story that celebrates resiliency in the face of adversity, all the while throwing a spotlight on the many amazing things that special needs teens and adults are capable of doing. 

It is a deeply complex look into the plight of the underdog, those who have been treated with scorn and ridicule by an unenlightened society, and a sobering reminder that everywhere we turn, and perhaps where we least expect it, there exists these diamonds in the rough. All we need do is look.  

So as I turn the calendar from March to April, and look forward to a new baseball season and the release of my sequel (Sophomore Campaign) to The Legend of Mickey Tussler, my soul is burgeoning with hope and promise.

I am seated again by my window. The grass is green once more, trees are budding, flowers are blooming and children have returned to their outdoor play in neighborhood and local schoolyards. There is life again everywhere I look. And, every day until November, without fail, we can one again watch with hypnotic fascination as our boys of summer speak to us in ways that we never even knew they could.