Baseball in a Time of Politics

Perhaps you hadn’t noticed that the pitchers and catchers of Major League Baseball have gotten back to camp, back on the field, back on tv. Perhaps you’ve been so busy with politics — and so concerned about what’s happening with our government — that you’re thinking this is the season to give baseball a miss.

Might I suggest that would be a mistake. Here’s my story: back in the day, along with attending (sometimes) high school, I spent a good 20 hours every week working against the US War in Southeast Asia. Guerrilla theater, petition drives, leafleting, training marshals for marches locally and in DC — there was plenty to get done. My other interests in those days were equally passionate: religious community, women’s liberation, poetry, love affairs, and the all-important constant criticism of my parents. Life swirled by at a fevered pace, and all of it required my firm moral judgment.

But more often than you’d expect, this radical could be seen in a regular Cincinnati Reds tee-shirt, sitting through the national anthem but otherwise carrying on like everyone else in that red Republican town. More often than you’d expect, you’d find me at home in the evening with my mom, listening to the game, chatting over each player’s contributions and errors, whether the manager was mistaken (seldom), and how the primary players on the opposition teams were faring.

Far more often than you’d expect, from my somewhat delicate feminine face, you’d hear the most vile condemnations of an organization called The Los Angeles Dodgers. They were our only serious rival for leadership in the National League West, we played them quite a bit, and not one of those innings could be taken for granted. There were other fierce rivals, of course — the Cardinals, the Pirates, the Braves, the Phillies, especially — but none of them drew our bile quite like the Dodgers.

And all those curses, those evil wishes, those boos, those hisses, and jeers, played a vital role in my successful political participation. In every demonstration, in every setting, a great many of the people who held my views expressed them by spewing hatred of someone else in the social, political, or religious realm. My aspiration, following both Martin Luther King, Jr., and, in my mind, even Jesus of Nazareth, was to hate the sin but not the sinner. To oppose the position but not the person who held it. To intervene against the policy but not demean the humanity of folks who felt that policy was best.

This was not as easy as it might seem, even for a detached intellectual like myself. Hatred turns out to be a human need, no different from food or water. It’s right up there with sex and an occasional sojourn in nature. It welled up inside me quite a bit, and for that, I had the Los Angeles Dodgers. I remember once watching them in a play-off game against the Phillies. My mom came in and asked who in the world I might be rooting for. “A lot of injuries,” was my answer.

I gave myself rules for this vicious baseball hatred. The world was a smaller place then, and it was possible to run into major league players downtown. If I ran into a Dodger (subjunctive mood, it never happened), I would not allow myself to spit or jeer. If one of the Dodgers actually got hurt, I stood with respect as anyone else might do. Baseball has its civility, and its function in terms of the Dodgers was to remind me that I was a pacifist.

Over the last few decades, my loyalties have traveled, but settled in on the Boston Red Sox. Then, in the late 2000s, I fell in love with a Yankee fan. For several years, I’ve had no major baseball hatred in my life. She speaks so nicely about the Sox, and indeed, I’ve gotten rather fond of many players in pinstripes. It’s all become quire low-key, this baseball rivalry in our house.

But these are trying times. As the pitchers and catchers settle in, I’m looking for a team to hate as much as I hated the Dodgers. I need it. Someone to wish into a baseball gutter, to jeer with ugly, dripping sneers when they take the field. I need them because I refuse to stoop to that level in discussing our president, his party, nor the people who put them in office. If this country is to have any future, someone has got to take the first step in modeling an admirable minority position. It doesn’t mean staying quiet on issues, it doesn’t mean keeping calm in the face of outrage. It just means remembering that most of these people are honorable, patriotic, decent in many ways, and, frankly, probably just as confused as the rest of us about what the future holds.

But if I’m going to keep this cool in what looks to be a long, hot summer, it’s going to take a scapegoat from major league baseball to keep me stable. At this point, I’m considering the St. Louis Cardinals as my fall guys. They fight both the Red Sox and Red Legs valiantly, and the weather in their river town is horrible.

Those are pretty good reasons to hate someone immeasurably — aren’t they?