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Baseball and Timeless America

In this dying season of fall, even as the New York Mets enter Game 3 of the World Series trying to recover after digging a two-game deficit, I want to take a moment to write about baseball, America’s great and timeless pastime.

I once planned to write something longer, an essay to persuade those who prefer faster-paced games to consider the merits of the sport brought to fame by North America’s love of the game. Instead, I want to briefly look at the wonder of the game itself, and think about the timelessness and hopefulness of America, if only for a second.

Baseball the Timeless Sport

In so many sports, teams work against a clock. You see this in football, basketball, hockey, soccer, and the list goes on. Time amplifies deficits in these games. If your team is down by 5 scores late in the fourth quarter, the third period, or the second half, the deficit can be so large that no amount of effort, skill, or luck can overcome it. In football, for instance, a team can run the clock out if they have enough of a lead with time dwindling down.

This doesn’t work in baseball. There is no clock to tell players that all hope is gone. They are instead given opportunities, each of which ends with an out. A team can be down ten runs in the bottom of the ninth and still have the possibility of victory. In baseball, it is truly never over until that final out is recorded. That doesn’t make the task easier if the deficit is especially large, but unlike most other sports, any deficit is one that can be overcome.

America the Underdog

The American nation played the underdog role for much of its existence. Up until World War II, it was considered by the world powers as an untested land of playboys, a nation protected not by its great majesty or power, but by its isolation from Europe’s might. But slowly this nation grew, eclipsing the others of the world and eventually asserting its great economic and military potential in the twentieth century.

This attitude of being an underdog with something to prove swelled not just among patriots, but in every aspect of American life. The American Dream was that men could work hard and achieve anything they imagined. They were Cinderella stories waiting to happen, all of them, trailing several runs in the game of life they were playing and fighting with all their might to make up the difference.

Ambition, hope, and a gifted ability to innovate and solve catapulted America before and after the world wars. It reigned as the supreme example of earthly progress as the Soviet Union fell. Yet as the 1990’s drew to a close, it was beginning in many ways to slip from its pedestal.

America in the Ninth Inning

I am not saying that America has fallen from grace, but it faces problems that will greatly shape its destiny.

America’s influence and ability to help the rest of the world is dwindling. It suffers from great poverty and inequality at home even as its debt skyrockets, both its government and its individuals. Its robust economy has proven fragile, as demonstrated in the Great Recession. And its politicians seem incapable of doing more than bickering and making uncompromising promises that they can never fulfill.

Paul Ryan, the new Speaker of the House of Representatives, declared yesterday that America’s Congress is broken.

I would say different words. It is trailing behind, as are its people.

Not behind some foreign power like the ancient Romans being raided by barbarians. No, America is trailing behind its problems. These problems, from growing debt and wealth inequality to poverty and racial tension, just to name a few, are stacking up. This has resulted in a lot of rhetoric from politicians and people, but seldom are there lasting efforts for change or understanding on any side of an issue.

America the Comeback Kid

As I reflect on America’s great pastime and the problems the country faces, I find hope in the fact that the game isn’t over yet. If Americans, and in particular their political parties, came together to make meaningful decisions on these problems in good faith, we could certainly manage a rally. We could finish this inning, this era of American history, with strength and unity. We could give our children a future even better than the one we inherited from the previous generation.

But for that to happen, Americans need to turn away from images of the great nation we inherited and instead consider the even greater nation we can build. I’ve heard political slogans like “Make America Great Again” and consider this from baseball:

When it’s the ninth inning, it doesn’t matter what the score was in the second.

We need to in some ways forget about being the great nation we were. We need to treat our future as a Cinderella story, a David vs. Goliath, in which we put forward faith, hope, and cooperation in order to solve the problems we deal with now, not problems from a past we desperately need to move beyond.

Let’s be the Mets, down only 2-0, and make progress instead of letting ourselves flounder and our hope turn into something that feels impossible.

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