Spring is the best time to be on a college campus. We have awards ceremonies to honor our outstanding students and faculty. We have graduation. We have hope and optimism bursting forth in all manner of natural beauty.
And we have baseball. At The University of South Carolina, we were delighted last weekend to host an NCAA regional tournament for the first time in our first-class Carolina Stadium. We are delighted, too, to be moving on to the Super Regionals at Coastal Carolina University this weekend, where the winner earns a trip to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.
Wins and losses often distract us from the game's positive aura and welcoming spirit. In our haste to quantify and analyze, we can get too caught up in baseball's periphery - leagues, playoffs, even quality of play - and miss the beauty of the game itself. The game itself is a gift; all else is shiny wrapping.
While I love the pageantry and spectacle of college football, just as I do the charged atmosphere when our basketball teams are in action, there is something uniquely binding about the experience of a baseball game. Our backgrounds, occupations and social status all melt away, and we enjoy it communally. That is one of the sport's most appealing aspects to me: its open-arms embrace of all Americans.
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We see this equality played out on the diamond as well, where the figurative "level playing field" becomes a literal one, where performance generally wins out over good fortune, and where bad hops occur indiscriminately.
And we see life lessons in microcosm. Character emerges in situations we call "clutch." Resolve is challenged when a call goes the other way. What could be more heartbreaking than Detroit Tigers' pitcher Armando Galarraga earlier this month being deprived of pitching a perfect game because of an umpire's missed call on what would have been the final out. What could be more heartwarming than the grace with which Galarraga and umpire Jim Joyce met at home plate the next day, Joyce in tears over his acknowledged bad call. In these boisterous days, we may not expect civil discourse on athletic fields, yet we find it there.
We marvel at stout-hearted teams that put together comebacks from situations that seem hopeless. We admire the allegiance to Team and the common goals shared by individuals for the greater good, even at the expense of personal sacrifice. We feel for the all-star pitcher whose finest hour was for naught because, on this day, in the capricious nature of the game, the other pitcher was simply better.
We see and applaud natural talent and good effort, but we recognize that talent and effort alone do not guarantee success, that talent without application expires easily and quickly, that effort without direction and preparation is hollow theater.
Baseball thrives on hope, which makes it the great American game. In it, we see the qualities of a nation that draws its strength not so much on the prosperity of the here and now as on the possibilities of the beyond. We celebrate our successes, but more importantly, we learn from our failures. When we lose, we try again. And we never give up.
We can admire the fundamental structure of this deceptively complex game, or revel in the ebb-and-flow drama, and that would be enough. But at its best, baseball is the greatest game because of what it shows us about ourselves. At its best, baseball allows us to see quietly profound moments that reveal a part of the collective human experience.
Pastides has served as president of the University of South Carolina since August 2008 and is a confirmed baseball fan.