Of all the games of the American pantheon, baseball is perhaps the most ‘American’. Although football stands out more from its progenitors, and basketball and volleyball are true American inventions, baseball has become in many ways more American and more about America. This is as true in our riverfront city as it is anywhere.
Consider for a moment the impact that the pitcher and the hitter have had on our everyday language. Sure, a wide range of sporting terms have entered our lexicon, but baseball surely holds the crown for sheer numbers. Give me a ballpark figure, although make sure it’s in my wheelhouse. You better make sure you step up to the plate, because three strikes and you’re out. I could go on, but this illustrates just how easily the ballgame has influenced other things we do, things as natural as holding a conversation, without us knowing it.
And as easily as we enjoy talking about the game, baseball is a fundamentally easy game to enjoy. Sure, sabermetricians revel in the minutiae of the statistics, but most fans go along for a convivial, familial good time, whatever the level of the game. The natural rhythms of the easy flow of the game allow for more conversation, more eating and drinking, and more quiet contemplation, than say hockey or basketball. Trips out to the game often take the forms of dates or romantic liaisons. Imagining taking a potential partner to a football game (hardcore fans notwithstanding). Not quite the same effect, eh?
Much of American business life, in the past as well as now, is spent on the road. From traveling salesmen constantly in the car and the motel, itinerant workers forced to move from town to town in search of work, employees move around a great deal. The same is true of ballplayers, and even entire teams and franchises. Indeed, our own Bats, before landing at Slugger Field, made their home (in a variety of guises), in Tulsa, New Orleans and Springfield, Illinois. Due to the farm-team nature of the organization of professional baseball, the changes to teams’ location is more prevalent in baseball than in other sports.
Baseball, in all its forms, is widely discussed in literature, local and national, and the breaking of the color barrier by Jackie Robinson in 1947 is commemorated every year on April 15th. Indeed, the contributions made by the outstanding figures of the game, be they players, managers or personalities, are widely recognized and celebrated.
Louisville is the fourth largest TV market in the nation without the graces of major league franchises within its city limits. With all due respect to the Reds, in this instance, this does make for a rather more partisan approach to high school, college and the aforementioned minor leagues than in other locales. Our high schools are well-represented in local competitions, and U of L sent their team to the College World Series in 2007, as part of the elite eight. On a more local level, little league and school programs impact, and are influenced by, countless families in our region. The cultures of sport, fair play, teamwork and effort and reward are instilled in our children at a young age, readying them for life in the workforce, or, just maybe, as a professional athlete.
Which leads us on to return to thoughts of how a simple bat and ball game reflects and intertwines with wider aspects of our culture. Communities are defined by many and multiple factors, one of which, in certain times and places, is how and why they support particular sports teams. Teams which win gain more support, and have wide economic and social impacts on areas. It’s interesting to ponder the impact on our city that not having a major league team has had and continues to have, and the effect that not having one does have. Perhaps this situation will change in the future, and MLB will come a-calling.
But this is not to say, of course, that we do not have access to some of the finest pitching and hitting right here in the River City. Baseball’s popularity continues to grow, with more and more people catching on (no pun intended) to the spectacle and occasion of the nation’s pastime. With its appeal to many different kinds of folks, and, as we have seen, its impact on culture and everyday lives, baseball’s special place in the heart of Louisvillians, and the public in general, continues to flourish and grow.
Photo: Flickr.com/saxcubano