Baseball has an essence that mirrors the heavenly city and the precision of creation better than other sports. Its calmer nature also embodies that sense of tranquility which the restless heart seeks.
The baseball season has arrived. America’s pastime sport returns, like Persephone from her bondage in Hades, to signal the return to life that spring represents. It is fitting that the beginning of baseball’s grueling pilgrimage season generally coincides with spring—the season of new life.
Baseball, though a mostly American sport, is the eternal and universal game. It is the athletic realization that Americans are not just a bunch of utilitarian workaholics but have flashes of class, divinity, and eternity within their souls. There is a certain grace—indeed, beauty—to the game that few other sports can rival. The coliseum-like atmosphere is tempered by the serenity of the field and the pace of the game. Where blood sports or the muscular contact-crushing of football harkens back to the gladiatorial games that overwhelmed St. Alypius, baseball is closer in imagery and content to heaven: It has the feel of a game of divine origin rather than of depraved man needing to find an outlet for his libido.
It could be said that baseball is not as exciting as football or basketball, though all sports are not too dissimilar in the time it takes to complete a game. Baseball may very well drag out into a three-hour-long game (sometimes longer) before completion, but so too does a football game often take three hours to complete, and basketball isn’t far behind. But where basketball and football have a rush and force of the passions, baseball is far more stoic and poetic in its calmer nature. Baseball, then, is a sport that instructs the virtues and entails the mastery of the passions.
Where other sports have become pulsating venues of sizzling entertainment even to the point of having cheerleaders perform to pass the slow time between action, baseball uniquely retains a spirit of entertainment and sociality to it that synthesizes to create an atmosphere of class to the game now absent in other sports, which have rushed headlong in the embrace of thorough-going entertainment and cheap thrills. Baseball is not merely an outsider’s experience in a rapturous audience, though there are moments in baseball when this is true. Baseball is more relational in its composition. Baseball strikes that balance between entertainment and sociality to create a new transcendent aesthetic to it. In its stoic instruction in the virtues of patience and grace, it is unsurprising that baseball has dipped in popularity as cheap consumer entertainment has become the order of the day. Yet, there is something about baseball that remains majestic, mystical, and, indeed, spiritual. Perhaps there are angels in the outfield after all.
Furthermore, there is something striking in baseball’s essence which brings us to the gates of the city of God. The beauty and grace, ebb and flow, and picturesque nature of the game bring us closer to witnessing a human instantiation of the participation of the Trinity than does the rough-and-tumble game of football or the grandstanding egomania of basketball. Baseball is a far more relational event than the depersonalized raucousness of a football or basketball game.
Baseball, in this sense, is indeed a closer reflection to heavenly participation and perfection than the more dirty and gritty sports like football or rugby, which still have that bloodlust coliseum aura to them in what one is observing. Baseball is also more angelic than basketball, which has become, like football, highly commercialized and consumeristic, with the thrill of cathartic exhilaration in its entertainment, flash, and the razzle-dazzle allure. While it is true that baseball shares in the consumeristic and commercialist trajectory of all sports, it has, in its simpler beauty, geometry, and proportionality, retained an element of that divine simplicity that other sports have lost in their headlong rush to global corporate, consumerist, and entertaining dominance.
The aesthetic experience of baseball is something akin to Dante’s Paradiso that other sports miss or can’t recreate. The green pasture and fields of baseball are not tainted by the dark Satanic mills that blotted out the Shire. In fact, the scenery of a baseball stadium is quintessentially Edenic. It is as if we, the audience, have been transported to that New Jerusalem, that New Eden, to watch a beautiful event; it is as if we are observing the Trinity in its beauty, grace, and grandeur as the pilgrims in paradise do. This innocence and serenity of baseball pose a sharp oppositional contrast to the other great American sport with a green field as its base.
Football doesn’t have the feel of a return to Eden. Rather, it has the feel of a modern coliseum, a modern gladiator brute fest that doesn’t so much invite appreciation of the beauty and grace of baseball but seeks to extirpate pent up libido by surrendering our passions to the physical crushing of the opponent. There is a different mystique to baseball altogether—one that, despite the emphasis on winning, doesn’t quite seem to embody the cathartic need to release the libido dominandi to achieve victory. Sometimes in baseball it seems as if victory comes from beauty and precision more than it does through sheer dominance. Watching that beauty and precision unfold to victory is truly enchanting.
While a baseball stadium finds a closer match in blueprint and structure with a basketball stadium, the aesthetical contrast between these two sports is equally worlds apart. Basketball has that dystopian, technocratic, and mechanistic feel that baseball avoids. It is as if one is trapped in a factory watching basketball where one is out under—ideally—the glory of the sun and stars in baseball. Basketball, with its closed-in, sealed, and digital screens overwhelming the viewer, has the aesthetical experience of a sport born in the mechanical age of industrialization and urbanization, while baseball retains that idyllic agrarian pastime feel. A basketball stadium is the product of the urban city, and one cannot escape that experience when watching a basketball game. A baseball ballpark, though located in the same urban cities as basketball stadiums, carves out a feel and sense of a world lost with which we can reconnect if for but a few hours.
Baseball has an essence that mirrors the heavenly city and the precision of creation better than other sports. Its calmer nature also embodies that sense of tranquility that the restless heart seeks. Where other sports try to feed the restless passions of the restless heart, baseball calls that restless heart to an equanimity not known since the days of Adam and Eve before the Fall. Perhaps that is why baseball is the sport that transports us back to Eden and away from the hustle and bustle of the city and lifestyle built by the sons of Cain. Or, perhaps baseball prefigures that heavenly city. Like the pilgrim Dante, we take our seat and watch the splendidness of Eternity unfold before our eyes.
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Editor’s Note: The featured image is “The American National Game of Baseball,” a card from a baseball game recorded by an American newspaper in 1845, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.