Friday, July 23, 2010

This Great Game

In the August/September edition of First Things David B. Hart waxes philosophically on America's greatest contribution to humanity:

My hope, when all is said and done, is that we will be remembered chiefly as the people who invented--who devised and thereby also, for the first time, discovered--the perfect game, the very Platonic ideal of organized sport, the "moving image of eternity" in athleticis. I think that would be a grand posterity.

I know there are those who will accuse me of exaggeration when I say this, but, until baseball appeared, humans were a sad and benighted lot, lost in the labyrinth of matter, dimly and achingly aware of something incandescently beautiful and unattainable, something infinitely desirable shining up above in the empyrean of the ideas; but, throughout most of the history of the race, no culture was able to produce more than a shadowy sketch of whatever glorious mystery prompted those nameless longings.

The coarsest and most common of these sketches--which has gone through numerous variations down the centuries without conspicuous improvement--is what I think of as "the oblong game," a contest played out on a rectangle between two sides, each attempting to penetrate the other's territory to deposit some small object in the other's goal or end zone. All the sports built on this paradigm require considerable athletic prowess, admittedly, and each has its special tactics, of a limited and martial kind; but all of them are no more than crude, faltering lurches toward the archetype; entertaining, perhaps, but appealing more to the beast within us than to the angel.

Mr. Hart is a thinker of the highest caliber and his credentials as a true lover of the game are indisputable. After all, he's an Orioles fan:

These--and I shall close on this thought--are the great moral lessons that only a game with baseball's long season and long history and dramatic intensity can impress on the soul: humility, long-suffering, dauntless love, and inexhaustible faith in the face of invincible misfortune. I could no more abandon my Orioles than I could repudiate my family, or my native heath, or my own childhood--even though I know it is a devotion that can now bring only grief. I know, I know: Orioles fans have not yet suffered what Boston fans suffered for more than twice the term of Israel's wanderings in the wilderness, or what Cubs fans have suffered for more than a century; but we have every reason to expect that we will. And yet we go on. The time of tribulation is upon us, and we now must make our way through its darkness, guided only by the waning lights of memory and the flickering flame of hope, not knowing when the night will end but sustained by the sacred assurance that whosoever perseveres to the end shall be saved.

As a Twins fans I appreciate M. Hart's plight, but hope that the dark night of the souls of Orioles fans continues at least through this weekend.