The Rite of Spring is Still Alive

As I get older, the obligations and pursuits of "real life" have gradually consumed larger and larger portions of my time and mental energy. Now seven years removed from my own baseball playing career, I'm finding myself drifting from the game that largely defined 17 years of my life. It's harder to catch games, follow news and stats, and invest too much energy in something where I am now merely an observer.

It pains me in a way, I'll be honest. The game has meant so much to me throughout my life, it almost feels like losing touch with a dear friend or family member. But each year, as winter gives way to chilly, but bright early spring, I'm reminded of the wonderful feeling of renewed hope that comes with the new season.

Different religions and cultures mark the beginning of a new year at different times, and for the Church of the Seamheads, that new year comes some time in the month of March (though renowned experts disagree). High schools and colleges get into the heart of their schedules, and big league rosters are taking shape for the start of the regular season.

In an era when major league baseball is relegated to the back pages of the sports section whenever possible (until July, when media outlets simply have no choice), it's easy to forget just how much this time of year means to so many people across America. Call me biased, and you're probably right, but there is simply something different about baseball fans. There's a deeper connection between them than simply root, root, rooting for the home team, and jeering their rivals.

More so than any of the major professional sports in the country, baseball is steeped in tradition, folklore and Americana. While it has spread to other parts of the world, there is something uniquely American about the sport that continues to tie us to our roots, even as it becomes a foreign game to a younger generation. As our society becomes increasingly global and technology gradually consumes our lives, simple, casual sunny afternoons at the ballpark seem more and more out of place.

And yet, to coin James Earl Jones' famous monologue in Field of Dreams "The one constant through all the years Ray, has been baseball." Baseball has been treated as "old hat", and yet the Arizona Cactus League has seen multiple games eclipse 14,000 attendees this spring. These are exhibition games. Games where known stars rarely play more than six innings.

It speaks to the thirst for quiet simplicity that still exists in this country. The thirst for an escape from the never-ending barrage of media and information. A respite to merely enjoy a spring day, a poetic game, and the company of friends and family. This isn't the circus-arena atmosphere of an NBA game, or the militaristic battleground of an NFL contest.

No, this is something else. And while ever-rising concessions and ticket costs drive away more middle-class families from the ballpark, baseball still has not taken on the haughty ere of professional tennis or golf. It exists somewhere in-between, where civility meets the common man.

In all likelihood, the days when baseball dominated the pro sports landscape in this country are long gone. Whether lifelong fans such as myself like it or not, the game has become more niche as time has passed. The national pride associated with baseball has faded, as have the ties to the values it represents.

Patience is hardly still a virtue in America. Humility, true sportsmanship, and decorum are now considered oppressive archetypes. And heaven forbid simply enjoying the present moment without some form of constant stimulus.

Still, there are many of us who still seek refuge in the game of baseball. Those who still value its nostalgic charm, and believe it should continue to have a prominent place in our society. Not even with the utmost concern for who scores the most runs, leads the league in homers, or captures the pennant. But for the greater message it carries to our culture.

The rite of spring is upon us again, rejoice all ye faithful.

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