01 October 2004

The all-American sport

For someone who is not a baseball fan, I've been to more professional games than I can count. The earliest was in the old Comiskey Park, home of the Chicago White Sox, sometime in the early 1960s. The most recent was probably close to two decades ago, but in between times I attended scores of games in different cities. Usually this was with family members who were fonder of the game than I. To be sure, I will admit to having enjoyed these times, but I generally paid little attention to what was going on down on the field, content instead either to converse with the people I was with or simply to soak up the quintessential American cultural experience.

All the same, it's difficult not to get caught up in something of the romance of the sport. Back in the middle years of the last century, pro baseball was exclusively a northeastern and middle-western sport. A list of the teams in 1932 illustrates this: in the National League were the Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh Pirates, Brooklyn Dodgers, Philadelphia Phillies, Boston Braves, New York Giants, St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds; in the American League, the New York Yankees, the Philadelphia Athletics, Washington Senators, Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers, St. Louis Browns, Chicago White Sox and the Boston Red Sox. Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia and St. Louis each had two teams, and New York had three. This was before a series of moves in the 1950s and later sent a number of teams south and west. As a result of this and of the creation of new teams, baseball became even more all-American than it had been before, since it was more widely dispersed across the country. It eventually moved north of the border, with the Blue Jays and Expos. There was even a musical play and subsequent movie, Damn Yankees, about the obsessiveness of a Senators fan who sells his soul to the devil to see his favourite team win the World Series.

When I was around 17 years old our family became friends with a Cubs pitcher and his family who lived down the street from us. For the next year or so our two families spent a fair amount of time at the venerable Wrigley Field, sitting down in the section closest to the game with the other players' families while he was out on the field. We even had Ernie Banks and his ex-wife at our house once. As a result of this some of my younger siblings became ardent baseball fans. As for me, I was by then a little too old for all this to have had too great an impact. I hadn't been a fan up to that point and I wasn't all that interested in becoming one, though I was content to attend the games.


Wrigley Field, Chicago

I can't say I've thought too long and hard about baseball since those days of my youth. But the news that Canada will now have only one baseball team brought some of this back to mind.

One final thought in this rather stream-of-consciousness reflection on a game on which I am not all that keen. My hometown of Chicago is reputed to have the teams with the worst records in baseball. I have in my drawer a t-shirt which is entirely too small for me now but which I sometimes wear when gardening. On the front is emblazoned the proud words: "CHICAGO WHITE SOX, WORLD CHAMPIONS, 1918." I suppose that says it all.

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