Opening Week of ML Baseball! Tigers, Cubs & Boswell

Yes, indeed, though it was a typical cool, rainy week in the Midwest (especially the upper Midwest!), the Major League baseball season has opened once again! Amid off-season trades and ownership promises of improvement; amid renovated parks (more on Wrigley Field’s “improvements” another day) and player preparations (both good and bad!), the season has begun, with three-four games already under the belt.

And guess what? The Detroit Tigers are 3-0, with only one earned run given up by their three starters and the bullpen! And the Chicago Cubs are 1-1, with one rain-out – against the team predicted to finish first again in the NL Central, their despised rivals – the St.Louis Cardinals!

Not a bad start for the two teams for which I root (although you know where my full loyalties are – and it’s not to the east!). And speaking of these two teams, are you aware that they are playing a set of two-games series in each other’s ball parks this summer (in Detroit in June and in Chicago in August)?!

Heart of the Order-BoswellBut now, since it is so early in the season and the weather is so baseball-contradictory as yet (who wants to sit in the park when it’s 40?!), we take the time to focus on the deeper meaning of baseball – the personal and philosophical side. And to that end, we return to the “new” book I picked up this Winter, The Heart of the Order by Thomas Boswell (Doubleday, 1989). Having also read his “Introduction”, I pull together a few select quotes for you about what baseball is about. And with him, I find a kindred spirit. Maybe you will too. 🙂

The lasting power of baseball for me – beyond the tactical and technical fascinations of the game itself, even beyond the excitement of pennant races and World Series – is watching how the game illuminates and probes the faces of its changing people.

…The Sparky Anderson of October 1984 looked like a worried, driven man who might burn out. Old friends were scared for him. Heart attack looked written on him. Somehow, by March of 1985, he was a significantly different man. And the change seems to have stuck. Sparky has remained the same new-and-improved, upbeat-yet-calm, philosophical-yet-competitive person right through the successes and disappointments of his Tigers’ amazing 1987 pennant-race comeback victory and shocking playoff defeat.

…We pretend baseball is primarily a game of teams, when it’s more about people. Ted Williams played in only one World Series; Walter Johnson, Hank Aaron and Roger Hornsby in two each. Who cares or remembers? The team may be the individual’s context, but its success is not his definition.

Each season, I find I have less faith in the hard certainty of baseball statistics and more in some attempt at commonsense psychology – murky as that area always is, for individuals or groups. The stats always come too late. They may measure everything, but they explain very little and predict even less. Because people insist on changing.

…Every season, baseball tries to teach us that the game has a human, unpredictable heart. And it is richer for it. Yet, every year, we insist the game should be less messy than the world around it. We pretend that potential is a hairbreadth from performance, and that what’s been done in the past should be readily duplicable on demand in the future.

The more we judge teams on paper, the more the sport insists that results be forged on the field by actual people. The game is a system in such flux that expectations are smashed to flinders. Its drives people batty. How on earth do preposterously ordinary teams like the ’85 Royals, ’87 Twins and ’88 Dodgers end up as world champions?

…The math professor who taught us that it wasn’t the answer to a specific problem that was important but, rather, learning to appreciate the interlocking coherence of the whole scientific view of the world. The English teacher who showed us the agonies of patience that went into crafting a poem so precise in its choice of words that we could read it a hundred times over fifty years and always find it powerfully true. The teachers, in other words, who taught us that love of learning – for itself – not love of grades, was the beating, enduring heart of education.

So too in games, the guiding principle that most often keeps people oriented through all their passages and changes is a governing passion for excellence. In baseball, that’s what you discover at the heart of the order (xiii-xix).

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