Baseball: The Last Refuge from What Divides Us

Baseball may just be one of the last remaining apolitical spaces left in American life. Americans are divided by political party, race, religion, and culture more than any time I can remember in my lifetime, but baseball has blessedly remained a refuge, a place where everyone leaves those differences at the turnstile and simply enjoys America’s favorite pastime.

Tuesday’s All Star Game was no exception. Americans from all walks of life gathered for the annual event and immersed themselves in baseball’s time-honored traditions for a few hours.

I am a lifelong baseball fan. I grew up listening to the legendary Joe Tait calling the Indians games, beginning each game with “it’s a beautiful day for baseball!” — even during the most frigid spring games in Cleveland. My parents used to load the family into the Chevy Impala (and later the Chevette when gas prices soared) for the trip to the old Cleveland Stadium back in the days when you could buy tickets for a few bucks. Though I was still in elementary school, I still vividly recall the streakers and the near-riot during the infamous Ten Cent Beer Night game in 1974 (my dad grabbed the binoculars away from me during the streakers). I learned to keep score during long, sweaty Saturday afternoons at the stadium—a skill I would put to good use during the many years our sons played baseball (and “official scorekeeper for the Indians” remains my unrequited dream job).

Compared to other sports, with their time clocks and hurried pace, baseball is almost indulgent. There is time for long conversations, hot dog breaks, and leisurely strolls around the stadium. The traditions and rituals abound, beginning with the national anthem and proceeding through the obligatory ceremonial first pitch and 7th inning stretch. An unwritten rule of baseball etiquette dictates that political discussion only occur in hushed tones so as not to disrupt the jovial atmosphere.  When we’re at a game together, I don’t care if you’re a Republican, a Democrat, or a Socialist. As long as we’re wearing the same team colors, we are compatriots on this day.

The 2013 All Star Game kicked off with American Idol winner Candice Glover (donning a National League jersey) belting out the national anthem as a giant flag, held by members of the military, covered nearly the entire outfield. I always smile as I watch the players lined up during the song, shifting and wiggling, trying to contain some combination of energy and adrenaline rush. These grown men are just larger versions of the wiggly boys we see on the tee ball field. During Glover’s perfect performance, soldiers and veterans saluted and the crowd stood in respectful solidarity, erupting into a cheer when the soldiers made the flag wave during, “Oh say! Does that star-spangled banner yet wave?” No Republicans. No Democrats. Go America! Play ball!

Marc Anthony sang God Bless America during the 7th inning stretch. “Ladies and gentlemen, please rise and remove your caps as we honor our great nation and all the men and women who help keep us safe and free with the singing of God Bless America.”  OK, it’s a little sad that fans must be reminded to remove their caps, but nevertheless, it’s a respectful gesture with which most fans complied as they put their hands over their hearts and sang along to honor our troops and first responders.

Of course, many of us will remember that the song is a relatively new addition to the Major League Baseball lineup, begun after the terrorist attacks on  9/11. During those terrible weeks following the attacks, baseball gave voice to the patriotism Americans felt and at the same time provided a way to demonstrate America’s indomitable spirit. Before Game 3 of the World Series at Yankees Stadium a few weeks later, President Bush, wearing a bulletproof jacket, bravely strode to the mound and fired a strike across home plate. One homemade banner in the stadium accurately described the feeling across the country at that moment: “USA Fears Nobody – Play Ball.” Author David Fisher said, “I didn’t vote for him, but at that point, my personal feelings for him as a politician were just gone. I watched him and he was my representative. And I had never felt that way before.” Somehow we all knew at that moment that it wasn’t the end — America would go on and we were united in our love for our country.

Associated Press

Associated Press

My favorite moment of the All Star Game came in the 9th inning when the 5’ 11”, 275 lb. Prince Fielder legged out a triple (only the 11th of his MLB career) and plowed into third base with a huge smile on his face. Twitter lit up with Prince Fielder jokes — “Last time Prince Fielder had a triple he had a biggie fry to go with it” — and it was one of those moments when you retweet people with whom you have nothing in common except your love for the game. One guy captured the sentiment by tweeting, “If a Prince Fielder triple doesn’t make you smile, get out of America.” Baseball is just charming like that.

And in the spirit of All Star Game good will, I won’t even complain (much) about the (somewhat gratuitous) tribute to Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera as he took the mound in the 8th inning before (presumably) his last All Star Game appearance. He threw an impressive inning — three up, three down — and Rangers pitcher Joe Nathan got the save in 9th inning to give the American League the 3-0 win, earning them home field advantage in the World Series. It was a great game, played to win, respectful of the sport’s traditions.

Baseball offers us a respite from all the things that divide our country, as fans simply enjoy the game without the complications of race, religion, and politics. Baseball — with all its traditions and patriotic expressions — gives us hope that our differences are not insurmountable. America’s favorite pastime is one of the last refuges from seemingly intractable problems that divide us, and for that we can be thankful.

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