Thursday, November 3, 2016

In honor of the World Series, best essay on baseball and life.

In honor of the World Series, best essay on baseball and life.

VIEWS OF SPORT; The Story Of Baseball: You Can Go Home Again
By A. BARTLETT GIAMATTI; A. Bartlett Giamatti former commissioner of major league baseball and President of Yale.  This essay is excerpted from ''Americans and Their Games,
'' If baseball is a narrative, it is like others - a work of imagination whose deeper structures and patterns of repetition force a tale, oft-told, to fresh and hither-to-unforeseen meaning. But what is the nature of the tale oft-told that recommences with every pitch, with every game, with every season? That patiently accrues its tension and new meaning with every iteration? It is the story we have hinted at already, the story of going home after having left home; the story of how difficult it is to find the origins one so deeply needs to find. It is the literary mode called Romance.

While it may be fanciful to construe the cluster around the plate as a family, it is certainly not a fancy to call that place ''home.'' That is the name of the odd-shaped pentagram. Home plate or home base. I do not know where it acquired that name. I know that the earliest accounts of the game, or an early version of it, in children's books of games in the early 19th century, call the points around the field - often marked by posts -''bases.'' The game was called ''base,'' though in his diary a soldier at Valley Forge with Washington called it ''baste.''
And why not? Meditate upon the name. ''Home'' is an English word virtually impossible to translate into other tongues. No translation catches the associations, the mixture of memory and longing, the sense of security and autonomy and accessibility, the aroma of inclusiveness, of freedom from wariness, that cling to the word ''home'' and are absent from ''house'' or even ''my house.'' Home is a concept, not a place; it is a state of mind where self-definition starts; it is origins - the mix of time and place and smell and weather wherein one first realizes one is an original, perhaps like others, especially those one loves, but discrete, distinct, not to be copied. Home is where one first learned to be separate and it remains in the mind as the place where reunion, if it ever were to occur, would happen.

So home drew Odysseus, who then set off again because it is not necessary to be in a specific place, in a house or town, to be one who has gone home. So home is the goal - rarely glimpsed, almost never attained - of all the heroes descended from Odysseus. All literary romance derives from the ''Odyssey'' and is about rejoining - rejoining a beloved, rejoining parent to child, rejoining a land to its rightful owner or rule. Romance is about putting things aright after some tragedy has put them asunder. It is about restoration of the right relations among things - and going home is where that restoration occurs because that is where it matters most.

In America, the cluster of associations around the word, and its compounds, is perhaps more poignant because of the extraordinary mobility of the American people. From the beginning, we have been a nation constantly moving. As I have suggested elsewhere, the concept of home has a particular resonance for a nation of immigrants, all of whom left one home to seek another; the idea of a ''homestead'' established a frontier, the new home beyond the home one left in the East; everyone has a ''hometown'' back there, at least back in time, where stability or at least its image remains alive.

Stability, origins, a sense of oneness, the first clearing in the woods - to go home may be impossible but it is often a driving necessity, or at least a compelling dream. As the heroes of romance from Odysseus and Aeneas through Leopold Bloom know, the route is full of turnings, wanderings, danger. To attempt to go home is to go the long way around, to stray and separate in the hope of finding completeness in reunion, freedom in reintegration with those left behind. In baseball, the journey begins at home, negotiates the twists and turns at first and often founders far out at the edges of the ordered world at rocky second - the farthest point from home. He who remains out there is said to ''die'' on base. Home is finally beyond his reach in a hostile world full of quirks and tricks and hostile folk. There are no dragons in baseball, only shortstops, but they can emerge from nowhere to cut one down.

And when it is given one to round third, a long journey seemingly over, the end in sight, then the hunger for home, the drive to rejoin one's earlier self and one's fellows, is a pressing, growing, screaming in the blood. Often the effort fails, the hunger is unsatisfied as the catcher bars fulfillment, as the umpire-father is too strong in his denial, as the impossibility of going home again is re-enacted in what is often baseball's most violent physical confrontation, swift, savage, down in the dirt, nothing availing.

Or the attempt, long in planning and execution, works, and then the reunion and all it means is total, and the runner is a returned hero, the teammates are for an instant all true brothers. Until the attempt is tried again. A ''home run'' is the definitive kill, the overcoming of obstacle at one stroke, the gratification instantaneous in knowing one has earned a risk-free journey out, around and back - a journey to be taken at a leisurely pace (but not too leisurely) so as to savor the freedom, the magical invulnerability, from denial or delay.

Virtually innumerable are the dangers, the faces of failure one can meet if one is fortunate enough even to leave home. Most efforts fail. Failure to achieve the first leg of the voyage is extremely likely. In no game of ours is failure so omnipresent as it is for the batter who would be the runner. The young batter who would light out from home, so as to return bearing fame and the spoils of success, is most often simply out, unable to leave and therefore never to know until the next try whether he or she can ever be more than simply a vessel of desire.

The tale of leaving and seeking home is told in as many ways as one can imagine, and there still occur every season plays on the field that even the most experienced baseball people say they have never seen before. The random events, the variety of incidents, the differing ways various personalities react to pressure, the passion poured into the quest to win, are organized by the rhythms of the innings, by the metric of the count and the pitcher's rhythm and by the cool geometry that is underfoot and overarching.

Repetition within immutable lines and rules -baseball is counterpoint: stability vying with volatility, tradition with the quest for a new edge, ancient rhythms and ever-new blood - an oft-told tale, repeated in every game a season, season after season. If this is the tale told, who tells it? Clearly, the players who enact it thereby also tell it. But the other true tellers of the narrative are those for whom it is played. If baseball is a narrative, an epic of exile and return, a vast, communal poem about separation, loss and the hope for reunion -if baseball is a romance epic, it is finally told by the audience. It is the romance epic of homecoming America sings to itself.

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