An affectionate look at baseball and other sports

Published 9:50 am Thursday, May 6, 2010

Baseball and most other sports provide a way to communicate, especially between men who traditionally seem to lack the communication skills that exist between women. There are many, many people that don’t need sports to help them talk, probably most of us. Politics, religion, hunting or fishing, etc. all lend themselves to conversation. Sports is another means of communication. Certainly not the only one or necessarily the best one, but a good one.

Not only baseball, but other sports discussions give friends something in common. As you give and take various viewpoints you might not always agree, but you do learn to respect the other person’s opinion. Some even maintain that you can judge a person’s character by how he plays a game. Here is an example other than baseball: Successful Oregon State basketball coach Craig Robinson, Michelle Obama’s brother, was given the task of checking out her boyfriend by his sister. He reported back that Barack Obama was a good man.

I remember back when I was a little boy hanging out for the first time with my dad, older cousins, grandfather and uncles after a family dinner. After the usual wonderful meal, the men including me, gathered around a car. Probably a late ‘40s Ford, and listened to a baseball game on the car radio. The game was not that important. The talk was about crops, the weather and the news of the day. There was no talk of women, probably because of my 10-year-old ears. The baseball game provided the grease for the men’s conversation around the old Ford.

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When you’re growing up friends are extremely important, especially if you were new in town. Think back to grade school and how physical feats were very important. Who ran the fastest? Who caught the biggest fish? To a tall skinny kid with glasses, baseball gave him the opportunity to be good at something physical and to make friends. At our all-school reunion I ran into a baseball player I hadn’t seen for 50 years. He graduated from high school and went on to shine in college basketball. We talked about those long-ago days on the baseball diamond.

My father was a baseball fan and some of my fondest memories are playing catch, talking baseball and the two of us going up to the Twin Cities to see the Minneapolis Millers play. Wonderful memories that wouldn’t have happened without baseball.

Baseball doesn’t have to be the dominant activity. It is comfortable and belongs along picnics, family rides in the country, popcorn wagons, evening softball games and band concerts. Baseball gives us a common ground whether you are a fanatical Twins fan or just barely understand the game. It is something to enjoy no matter the circumstances. It’s been written that on the afternoon of the evening Mrs. Hubert Humphrey died she watched the Twins on TV from her hospital bed.

It’s been said that baseball is a slow-paced pastoral game, that it takes a long time for something exciting to happen. I don’t think that’s all bad. It gives you an opportunity to reflect on the game and recall snippets of your past life experiences perhaps centered around baseball. They’re sitting there, ready for discussion with your son or grandchildren.

During the Twins spring training I attended a game with my wife, sons, and grandchildren, it was like I was sitting with my son 30 or 40 years ago. Baseball has been a thread throughout our lives and I think he enjoyed our baseball conversations then and now. I know I did.

I believe other baseball fans would agree with my assessment of the game. There must be some reason why an 8,000-seat stadium was sold out for a pretty meaningless game.