The reason we love baseball, or any sport for that matter, is the stories. There are stories of Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson; the Cubs futility and the Red Sox redemption. Baseball fans need only to hear the words “Bill Buckner” or “Bartman,” and we see again the ball trickle through the legs or bounce off the outstretched arm. We honor numbers like 61 and 755, and know the sour taste of betrayal that comes with the number 73. We know the stories of baseball. Each season is a small story – starting in March and ending (for a few lucky teams) in October, and at the same time each season is but a chapter in the larger story. It is a story that includes tremendous accomplishments, think the ’27 Yankees and ’69 Mets, and terrible disappointments, consider the ’69 Cubs and recent Mets. It is a story that includes heroic figures, like Lou Gehrig and Cal Ripken, and tragic disappointments like Jose Canseco and Dwight Gooden.
The stories of baseball often reflect the stories of America. It is the story of Civil War soldiers with bayonets and ball gloves. It is the story of the home front, keeping people’s mind off of the Nazis, if only for a few hours at a time. It is the story of segregation, and the exclusion of Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige. Baseball’s story is inexorably linked to history, from the infamous Disco Demolition Night signaling the end of a social era to the World Series in New York in October, 2001, signaling the beginning of a national healing.
Like James Earl Jones’ character Terrance Mann said in Field of Dreams, “America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again; but baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good, and what could be again.”
As fans, we become a part of the story of a team. We share in the excitement and disappointment of the game as if we were on the field ourselves. Every pitch is another line in the story, and we all desperately want the story to end in a win, and ultimately, a championship. We never live the story alone. We share it with our neighbors. We share it with strangers that happen to be wearing the hat of our team. We share it with entire cities where the mood of a community shifts with each run scored.
We share it with our sisters and brothers, with our fathers and mothers and their fathers and mothers. They are stories that go back generations, and they are stories we want to share with generations that come after us. These stories of baseball are linked to family stories so that our team becomes a part of our heritage. The link between grandson, father, son is enmeshed with the link between DiMaggio, Mantle and Jeter. Or in my family’s case, the link between Roberts, Carlton, and Hammels.
This is why we love sports, to be a part of something larger than ourselves. This is why we care about every game, every inning, every pitch, because the next pitch is the next line in on ongoing story that we have adopted as our own. Why do I care if the guys with the right words on their chest score more runs than the guys with the wrong words? Because that jersey is my jersey. That city is my city. Those players are my players, and the story they are writing is my story.