Part of the grieving process of Cub fans is the ability to start to think positively again. Milton Bradley’s suspension has made that a lot easier on most of us, but let’s not lose ourselves by rejoicing in the negative . . . if we do, Milton Bradley wins.
I want to think instead about this last batch of remaining games in the 2009 season. Particularly, I’d like to focus on the phrase that pops up from the ground like a masochistic groundhog ready to announce six more months of baseball winter: “These games are meaningless.” Allow me to strenuously agree and disagree.
Yes, these games are meaningless, and that’s the point of a pastime! The word pastime originates from the English phrase “pass time,” meaning to occupy ones attention so as to distract one from thoughts of those things that make life suck. Essentially, all we’re trying to do by watching baseball is to better enjoy the journey of the big hand and the little hand in their circuit around the face of the big green clock in center field. We’re not in this for the meaning.
If we wanted meaning, we’d do something important, like not call off sick or volunteer at a homeless shelter or throw bags of tea at people trying to pass healthcare legislation. Not all of our lives suck, but all of our lives do have meaning (some good, some bad) outside of baseball. Baseball transports us away from the meaning. It’s guys with sticks and balls and more opportunities for sexual innuendo than any adult would ever need.
Cubs baseball particularly provides an escape like no other. Cubs baseball is Fantasy Baseball. The scoreboard that time forgot. The enchanted ivy cascading down the outfield’s unscalable walls. The curse of a century. The men who become boys when they cross the magic white lines. Entire crowds erupting into song that would be entirely ridiculous in any other setting but here—in this movie, in this fairy tale, in this unending Disney flick—make perfect sense.
Meaningless? I should hope so. Yet, why do we care so much?
No, these games aren’t meaningless, they mean everything! I like the fall. My wife loves the fall. Leaves changing colors. Bonfires. Hayrides that sound enjoyable but quickly turn to itchy, blotchy, irritated regrets. It’s all wonderful. But world series championship or not, the end of baseball in the fall is the saddest point in my year. Because the game . . . every game, means something.
I love Darth Vader’s speech in Field of Dreams. It captures the emotional lure of baseball, the way we are inexplicably drawn to it. It is as American as the Declaration of Independence. And as old-fashioned. But baseball’s lore and history merely decorate the true meaning of baseball—the brick wall behind the ivy, the Vienna Beef beneath the pickles, relish, mustard, onions, tomatoes, peppers, and celery salt—relationships.
Like almost no other experience, baseball allows us to connect with friends, family, and strangers converging on a single, multi-faceted experience. The leisurely pace between each dramatic showdown allows us the time to talk, to listen, and to take in the richness of each other’s company. The game is an excuse to be together and to block out the nonsense that would deprive our lives of meaning.
Every baseball game I’ve ever been to has featured at least one meaningful exchange with the people around me (usually dozens of them). With my sons, with my wife, with my dad (who hates baseball, but enjoys Wrigley), with my mom (who loves baseball and got me started on this lovely doomed ride), and with people I know I can trust simply because of the round red C on their caps and the smiles on their faces.
This can be a lonely world. But not at Wrigley (unless, Mr. Bradley, you decide you want it that way). If that doesn’t mean something, then I don’t know what does. So excuse me if the lack of trophies, champagne showers, pennants, and parades doesn’t void my Cubs watching of its meaning.
As bad as this season has been, I don’t want it to end. Do you?