Pitchers and catchers report to spring training camps this week, so it's time to think about baseball.
Every year, I find myself liking baseball more. I think it's because baseball is the only major American team sport without a clock. Football has a clock. So does basketball. Actually, there are several clocks for each: game clock, play clock, shot clock, two-minute warning, and the three-second rule. Even lesser sports, like hockey and soccer, live and die by the clock.
Clocks remind us of punch clocks, time cards and nine-to-five workdays.
But baseball proceeds at its own pace. It gently ignores the tyranny of clocks. The game is over when it's over. It runs its course over a hot summer afternoon or a humid-soft evening. A pitcher doesn't slam the ball into the mound to stop the clock. A batter doesn't slug the ball over the right field fence just as the last second ticks away. Umpires don't review replays to see if the runner scored before the third inning expired.
You can lose your sense of time in a ballpark. You can imagine that for nine innings you don't age.
The season itself is luxuriously long, and so it's forgiving. It allows you to hold onto hope deep into the dog days of August, even for the most mediocre teams. If your team doesn't win today, well, there's always tomorrow. There are lots of tomorrows in baseball. Actually, 161 of them. If they don't win, it's a shame, but it's not the end of the world.
The baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint. Really, it's not even so much a marathon as it is a slow pleasant stroll starting in spring, meandering through summer and getting to its destination in the cold autumn air just before the snow flies.
And what other sport accepts failure so well as baseball? It's a game where if you fail only two out of three times at the plate you're considered a great batter. There's a lot of "baseball is like life" writing out there, but in that way I really wish life were more like baseball.
I suppose it sort of is, after all. Most of us are lucky enough to live a marathon more than a sprint, and we fail more than we succeed, but still manage to have a pleasant time of it. Some of us even win awards and offices even after striking out at other things.
Last year, I spent two glorious weeks in August as a Park Service volunteer ranger in the Apostle Islands. I managed to be cut off from all news thanks to my AT&T service, or lack thereof. But I was grateful for a dysfunctional cell phone because isolation, not communication, was what I was after. I had communicated and been communicated to a whole lot over the preceding eight years or so.
The only thing I asked island visitors about was the Brewers' scores. (Even those were hard to come by, as the Apostles are beset with Twins fans.)
When I got back home, I read the sports pages that I had asked Dianne to save for me. And I went to a ball game.
There's something sweetly slow and civilized about the game without a clock. I don't know about you, but I'm looking forward to it more than ever.