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an activity involving physical exertion
and skill in which an individual or
team competes against another or others


There’s nothing like that first glimpse of a big league park. First, you walk through the turnstiles, and by the concession stands where everything is insanely overpriced and you’re immediately overwhelmed with how close everyone around you is. Then you’re surrounded by the stench of stale beer, the sickeningly sweet smell of hot dog toppings, and of course the sweet aroma of cracker jacks and popcorn. And after you’d checked and re-checked your tickets for the correct section number, you finally walk down the corridor in full view of the field.

Every time it happens. Whether I stop to get food, or grab a souvenir, whenever I get to this point in the experience, I make it last as long as possible. And I never, ever take it for granted. I breathe deep, I close my eyes and say a little pray of thanksgiving and I walk slowly, yet confidently out and onto the (usually) bleacher deck {1}. The once dark and dreary atmosphere of the behind-the-scenes tunnels of concessionary walkways are now gone and you’re enveloped into this whole new world; a world of green grass, blue skies and one of the few places the God can truly Bless America {2}. It is a place where your homework, your job, your significant other, your religion, your politics and whatever else ails, concerns or even brings you worry doesn’t exist; it is a world unto itself. And it is a grand world.

Baseball is a land of blindly optimistic and liberating contradiction. It is a place of the strictest of rules, but without a clock or even any technological aid in judging close plays. Rules and statistics are kept with the closest and most meticulous measure, but cheating—even fist fights—is acceptable and is even encouraged by many prominent men in the sport. It is a lighthearted game for children, but is played by some of the meanest and gruffest, offensive men in the history of American culture. Baseball isn’t just a game that is played to pass the time, it is a game built out of mathematic and humanistic necessity. If the bases were two inches shorter, the pitching mound sixty feet, three inches instead of sixty feet, six inches, or there were eight or ten people on the field at once, the game simply would not work. It would fall apart and never would have maintained momentum or sustainability in pop culture. The game is the most consistent sport in history (from the statistics to the overall playing style), and no amount of technological, biological or psychological changes have ever (permanently) changed the game.

It is perfect{3}.

Baseball is the perfectly random, exciting, fair metaphor for the American spirit. You may be the most talented person in the field, but if you don’t practice, if you don’t get out of your dugout and try as hard as you can, you won’t amount to anything. And even though you will most definitely strike out from time to time, the more you practice the luckier you get{4}. The game rewards those who work the hardest, but also occasionally gives merit to those who cheat the system for their own benefit. But, to those who are found to break the rules, it is a long and dangerous journey back to the light again{5}.

For me personally, the game of baseball has long evoked memories of nostalgia and wistful gamesmanship in my mind. After my dad left, my mom would solicit the men in our church to spend quality time with my brother and me, so we could have a strong male figure in our lives. This was, for lack of a better phrase, really, really awkward at times. However, it did make for a few lifelong friendships (and mentorships). I still remember these men taking me to Candlestick Park in to see the Giants and the Coliseum to see the Oakland A’s. History has shown those two parks to be terrible, freezing, dirty, uncomfortable baseball stadiums, but to me they’re the greatest venues for baseball to take place.

I’ve seen walk off grand slams, historic saves, game-winning hits, season-altering moments and momentous, earth shattering pitching performances. Each of these moments, a significant part of my adolescence, spent with strong, proud yet humble men all trying to make me the best kid I could be. Don’t get me wrong, there are certain moments and places in baseball in which children should have supervision and guidance, but for the most part, there’s pretty high level of safety when you give a kid a mitt and a ball.

And what’s more is that each of these men are all still in my life, some who I talk to on a consistent basis and some who I see just during certain holidays and trips back to the Bay Area. But no matter how much time goes by, those guys still hold special, important parts in my heart and in my life story, all because they took me to a few baseball games as a favor to a friend. They shared with me the glory of the perfect game and taught me how to be a man, and they forever altered the man I came to be.

1) In my time as a person of little means, I’ve found that the bleacher seats are where the real fans often call home. I first found this out in Candlestick Park where in the mid-90s the left field bleachers were home to the raucous Bonds Squad. Even when I do find myself with the option of an infield seat, I just can’t pull myself away from the outfield bleachers.

2) In the seventh inning stretch, on Sundays, ever since 9/11

3) For more on baseball’s perfection, watch Ken Burns’ 23-hour documentary on the subject. Then watch it again.

4) Just an FYI, Jack Youngblood and Robin Moore coined the phrase in their 1961 novel The Devil To Pay, not Arnold Palmer, Gary Player or his friend, Jerry Barber.

5) *cough* Shoeless Joe Jackson, Pete Rose, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemons, et al.

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