Something there is in me that specifically loves the sight of a baseball diamond. Unadorned, except for the usual neat base paths with the base bags at each of the three base positions and home plate with its apex neatly in place pointing to the slightly raised pitcherís mound just sixty feet way. And, of course, all the vast expanse of green grass all over the outfield, carefully mowed in those serried alternate rows of dark and lighter shades of warm and welcoming green grass. A reassuring aspect of mother natureís prime color arranged for our esthetic as well sports viewing delectation. And unsullied even by any of the contestants showing before the game we have come to witness.
A football field also fills me with somewhat the same feeling of anticipatory pleasure, although the impending violence of the game dims to some extent the more serene and somewhat more cerebral pleasure evoked by the much more leisurely game of baseball. There is the same reassuring mass of green, this time lined at five yard intervals by white chalk sripes. Twenty in all for a hundred yard grid with a goalpost ten yards beyond each end. Foretelling as in baseball, a controlled situation where the confrontation about to begin will be related to the instinctive (green) thrust of our natural impulses, and the animosity and hate engendered will be dissipated and transcended in the competition, to the physical and emotional benefit of all.
Wordsworth, in some of his immortal pantheistic phrases said "we come trailing clouds of glory from God".. and that "the child is father to the man" indicating an aura of heavenly sanctity for the newborn utterly innocent infant. And yet we know that this newborn innocent comes squalling out from the struggling motherís straining birth passage into a strange, unfamiliar, and perhaps, at times a seemingly hostile environment. Beginning an existence balanced tenuously between struggle, achievement, joy and sorrow. And sometimes perhaps mercifully dying before the the normal allotted seventy to eighty years we now enjoy, as some "lads that will die in their glory and never be old", as "silence sounds no worse than cheers, after earth has stopped the ears". ( A.E Housman) Indeed, life certainly can be a vale of tears at times and the sporting life, either fandom or actual athletic competition is a mixed blessing.
Indeed, I only tolerate or actively dislike certain sports. And two of these, ice hockey and basketball, have no soothing green turf or color to reinforce the psyche or soul. But it is much more than that. The hard wooden basketball floor or frozen ice surface of hockey are repugnant because of the activity they sponsor. To me it is almost senseless running or skating to the boundaries of the designated areas with only minimum cerebral content. Much grace and perhaps guile, but the basic strategy is infantile. This is true, too, of soccer which, of course, has endless green turf, no intervening field stripes and two rather cavernous goal nets at either end. And endless running back and forth trying propel a ball with nimble footwork as they run. Some sort of inane ballet seems to be at work: grace and artistry of a sort is at work, of course, as in basketball and hockey, but the premium is endurance and the innate bodily skill needed to make those instinctive moves and maneuvers to thwart your opponent. And the physical stamina to outlast your opponent. Out thinking your opponent is merely the instinctive bodily reaction to unfolding events on the field. And professional hockey has the added attraction of fisticuffs spontaneously evoked also by unfolding events and flaring tempers. (Much to the delight of the attending fans.)
There is more thinking, mental planning and strategy in one minute of a baseball or football game than in entire games---or seasons-- of the other above mentioned contests. Be it hockey, basketball, or soccer. And the allure of the green playing field in the baseball or football encounter is to me the the splendid human symbolic euphemism to manifest hope over reality. It is said that "on the playing fields of Eton the British Empire was sustained". I take that to mean that a controlled, planned athleticism was in place to achieve victory; there was honor, valor, group loyalty, and knowledge and conviction in the group strategy and plan to win.
But this is merely upper class sophistry. Baseball and football have neighborhood lots and even city streets where creative variants of the formal game were contrived-- stickball, anyone?, or touch tackle? That is where we kids brought the games we adored down our level of reality. To the democratic commonality of "we the people". And basketball, too, in my formative years before even World War Two, when it was medium size lithe and limber athletes who played the game, not the hulking, clunky types of today. (Does anyone remember Sid Tannebaum, Ash Resnick , Ozzie Schectman-no relation--or Dolph Shayes?) In those days it was almost a New York sport which seemed to spread nationwide and become contaminated by those monsters we now have to put up with, much like the Suvs and Vans today that give the rest of us so much agita!
The genesis of the proper modeling for heroic and valorous behavior that benefits society begin in the neighborhood with childhood--both male and female-- emulation and vicarious enjoyment through fandom, and active participation in some form of a national athletic game of choice. And for most incipient men of the future baseball and/or football was the path to follow. Did I at that time have active desires to be a Carl Hubbell, a Mel Ott, or even wonder of it all! Bill Terry, all Hall of Famers from the New York Giants baseball team, or to meet Mel Hein, Tuffy Leemans, or Ed Danowski of the football New York Giants? Probably not. I was, even then at about age 12, somewhat too intellectual for my own good . But that was also one of the shining glories of baseball and football. It gloried in the statistics and records that made for prime sports baseball and football chatter. Even unto glorious minutiae of the games, and if you could not hit a spaldeen ball two sewers to validate your athletic prowess, your knowledge of how good Bill Terry of the Giants was against left handed pitching compared to Lou Gehrig of the Yankees, was often enough to merit solid respect among those other initiates in the neighborhood sacrosanct sports group who had more innate athletic ability. (This is 1935, man, way before Bobby Thomson hit his world famous home run in l951!)
And the prime thing then was that while they were legendary heroes they were people from our ranks of relatively modest salaries and almost of exemplary behavior in their private lives.
The point is the need for the vicarious but vigorous outlet, real or fancied. Baseball, which, by the way, has no set time deadlines for the play of the game is to me the prime paradigm of the aspiring life; the verdant field in simple diamond form, mowed in serried green orderly rows is the most hopeful evidence of humanityís civilized thrust upward in the control of our essentially animal nature. The lust, anger, jealousy, and fear that is innate in us is exposed in an orderly athletic competition and mostly expunged or transcended and exhausted in the ultimate realization of our commonality of mutual interest. That we are all Godís children. And as in baseball, sometimes we must go extra innings to achieve this, or as in football and some other sports, go into overtime to work out our proper ending. An ending that denotes both a proper winner but also a loser who can still have the honor of honest striving and effort. Whether in reality or conjectured hope---a dream field of our own-- this saving image must remained untarnished, and nurtured no matter how much layered over with all the sophistry and science of the day. And the green baseball or football field preserves this hope, or delusion, for many of us.