Baseball was invented in America, where beneath the good cheer and sly jazz the chance of failure is everybody’s right, beginning with baseball.
– John Updike
Professional baseball players are warming up now in Florida and Arizona, getting ready for the 2013 season. Meanwhile, the World Baseball Classic is pitting athletes from across the globe against each other. And college teams have already put in weeks of work. It’s an exciting time of year for us baseball fans.
Baseball captures the American spirit like no other sport. Not because it was invented in this country. Not because it has produced some of our nation’s biggest heroes and household names. Not because of its more than 160 years of history. Not because it has succeeded in welcoming generations of immigrants into the American fold. Not because it stands with apple pie and blue jeans and John Wayne as a cultural icon that has shaped our national heritage and sunk deep into our national psyche.
All of these are true, but they aren’t what makes baseball the national pastime, the sport that defines a nation. It’s a quality much more basic and more foundational that accomplishes that feat: The game, at its essence, captures the indomitable hope of our land.
The sport requires – indeed, relies upon – hope. In the only game in which the defense has the ball, the odds are stacked against the offense from the start.
Pitchers hurl the 3-inch diameter ball the 60 feet 6 inches to home plate at up to 100 miles per hour, giving batters just a few thousandths of a second to decide whether to swing. Batters who succeed in getting a hit 2 in 10 times are considered decent. Those who can manage to fail only 7 of 10 times are considered great.
It is a sport that forces its players to repeatedly pick themselves up off the mat to try again. Every at bat is a new chance for success. Every swing brings with it the possibility of a home run. And no matter how lopsided the score, your team is never without hope.
With no time limit, a comeback is always a possibility. Fall too far behind in other games and losing becomes a foregone conclusion; the clock will run you out. But baseball is a game of hope. And until the very last strike, the last throw to first or the final pop fly, the game could still go either way. It’s a sport that demands its players never give up and never take it easy, because anything could still happen.
In baseball, we see exemplified the same grit, determination and unconquerable attitude that shaped our nation from its roots and continues to flow in our veins to this day. Throw us out and we’ll bounce back. Strike us out and we’ll beat you next time. We might fail once, twice, three times, even seven times. But we’ll keep swinging for the fences. We’ll keep trying to beat the throw. We’ll keep breaking for home.
It’s the spirit that inspires our entrepreneurs, our inventors, our leaders, our innovators. That hope and determination led local students to victory at a robotics competition this weekend in Myrtle Beach. It’s been exemplified in Martin Luther King Jr., in Thomas Edison (who failed much more than 7 out of 10 times), in Jonas Salk, in Bill Gates and in Jackie Robinson.
As the baseball season gets under way later this month, the same emotions will be on display. Every team and every player will be starting fresh, a whole new season ahead for them to dominate.
The Myrtle Beach Pelicans’ season begins April 4. We’ll be watching. And we’ll be rooting for them to win it all this year. Why? Because baseball is a game of hope.