Why We Love Baseball

(AP Photo/File)

I grew up in North Texas. In the mid-1980s, Colleyville had more cows than people and a blinking red light.

Residents had to go the next town over to access a proper grocery store; most of the time, though, Hall’s corner store and Mrs. Gilbert’s roadside farm stand were all we needed. There were 12 kids on our street, all within “playing age” of each other, so there was always an after-school game of some sort going on between 4  p.m. and whenever the street light came on.

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Baseball was always the first choice.

The late 80s and early-to-mid-90s in Dallas-Fort Worth were the golden years of sports. Jimmy Johnson, Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin were “America’s Team.” Nolan Ryan, Iván “Pudge” Rodriguez, Rafael Palmeiro, and Bobby Valentine made the Texas Rangers larger than life to a bunch of elementary school kids living in the shadows of Arlington Stadium. Three trees on a flood plain made a makeshift baseball diamond. We wore home plate and the pitching mound into the earth, with the creek serving as the “stands” — if you hit the ball that far, it was a home run and the game was over because the ball was gone. We made an exception in late summer when a child could, presumably, retrieve the ball from the dry creek bed.

This is why Americans love baseball. Whether it’s small town Texas or the streets of New York City, American kids of all shapes, sizes, colors, backgrounds, and locations were free to dream of their own come-from-behind-game-winning grand slam or an even more illusive perfect game. Baseball is uniquely and beautifully American. It’s not stick ball or cricket, and all we need is a ball, a bat, and a little space. Forget equipment and complicated rules, a good “pickle” situation is the stuff of legend. This game has seen our country through a civil war, two world wars, an economic depression, race riots, natural disasters, and terrorist attacks.

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Baseball’s most iconic moment in modern history is Game 3 of the 2001 World Series where President George W. Bush threw the first pitch at Yankees Stadium, just 7 weeks after 9/11. We were still mourning the deaths of 2,996 people, still reeling from the audacity of Islamic jihadists thinking they could snuff out our spirit, still united in ways we haven’t been as a country before or since. The 43rd President of the United States of American walked out to the pitcher’s mound and threw a beautiful ceremonial first pitch. No matter where you were, if you believed in freedom and resilience and hope, you cheered.

The leader of the free world embodied the spirit of the everyday American (little d) dream: standing in front of a sold-out stadium with a baseball in your hand, feeling the stitches and the crowd, showing the world that we are unshakable, strong, full of grit and determination — the daydream so many of us held in our youth.

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Last night, October 27, the Arizona Diamondbacks and Texas Rangers met in Arlington, Texas for Game One of the 2023 World Series. George W. Bush returned to the mound, with “Pudge” Rodriguez behind the plate. This was a moment in history where baseball waxes poetic. The Arizona Diamondbacks were in the 2001 World Series against the New York Yankees when the 43rd President threw the first pitch, and they return to the championship this year. George W. Bush may have been born in Connecticut, but he was raised in West Texas and went on to serve in the Texas Air National Guard before becoming Governor of the Lone Star State; at one point, he co-owned the Rangers, when Pudge was the franchise’s catcher. George W. Bush is a Texan.

Last night and into the early hours of the morning, in the too-recent shadows of a national tragedy in Lewiston, Maine, our hurting and divided country comes to baseball to remember what is so beautiful about our country: freedom, pride, competition, perseverance, and teamwork.

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Whether you’re root-root-rooting for the Rangers with me or cheering for the Diamondbacks with Kruiser (who is the godfather to my kids, by the way), or if you have no idea what the hype is about but watch anyway, you are part of the rich tapestry that is baseball in America.

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