Dan Stringer

navigating the convergence of faith, culture and the common good

April’s beautiful game

April 21, 2012

At least one of three things comes to mind when I hear the word baseball: my dad, my childhood and of course, the San Francisco Giants. The above photo was taken at blustery Candlestick Park in the summer of 1991.

As you can see, Dad and my 7-year-old sister didn’t need to be reminded to look at the camera. Meanwhile, yours truly can be seen staring intently at the field, pencil in hand, heels on edge, eager to document the next pitch’s fate.

Fast forward 20-something years. I had a great conversation yesterday with a friend about baseball. We talked about starting rotations, no-hitters, ballparks, superstitions, offseason trades and Ken Burns. It didn’t matter that we cheer for different teams on opposite coasts or that my favorite team is playing against his this weekend.

For baseball fans, April represents the height of speculative hope enmeshed with thinly-veiled pessimism, precisely because no one’s fate has yet been sealed. Every team still has a chance in the new season—even the Cubs and Mariners, mathematically at least.

The start of baseball season is America’s socially approved annual ritual when introverted adult males are permitted to act like giddy little boys who consumed too much Kool-Aid before recess. And while people unfamiliar with the game (especially grown-ups) might scoff at how “slow” or “boring” it is, baseball’s true allure lies in its captivating moments of situational beauty, when fans are drawn into the delicate dance between victory and defeat:

  • A bare-handed pickup of a slow-rolling grounder becomes a crisp, run-saving double play.
  • A baserunner overslides on a stolen base and is called out because the infielder continues to apply the tag.
  • With one out and runners at the corners, the batter tries to hit a sacrifice fly, but faces a series of pitches low and outside, designed to induce a ground ball.
  • A full count with two outs places additional pressure on the fielders, who now have less time to throw someone out since the baserunners will get an added jump.
  • In a feisty late-inning at bat, the hitter falls behind 0-2, but fouls off several pitches and manages to draw a walk, bringing the tying run to the plate.
  • A well-timed (or ill-timed) diving catch, pinch hit, double switch, squeeze play, defensive substitution, pickoff, pitch out, punch out, throwing error, bad hop, stolen base, infield shift, wild pitch or well-executed cutoff can change everything.

Alas, there’s nothing quite like baseball in the month of April. So buy me a hot dog. I’m still 10 years old.