There is nothing like walking into a local mom and pop store and hearing the singular sound of a baseball game playing in the background — crack of the bat, whiff of the ball into the leather. It’s grounding in the way walking into a well-used church is grounding. To me the sounds, the smells, the pacing, the statistics and minutia, the box scores and the (at times) sheer oddity of the game reassures me that “All shall be well…”
David Bentley Hart correctly calls it “The Perfect Game”:
I want winter, finally, to end. Wandering about in my heavy wool socks, I need it to be time for sandals and ice tea; time to walk into any place of business and hear a game being broadcast—it doesn’t matter what team, on the radio every game sounds the same: talk, count, crack, whiff, cheer.
It’s baseball! I hear the game and my stomach settles down and something like joy spreads deep. It’s baseball, the longest season of the year; the season that lasts and lasts and always leaves me feeling, when it’s finally over, as though it is gone too soon.
And now, finally it’s come, and thanks be to God!
I actually think this might be my favorite piece I’ve ever cranked out about the game, because we all know what’s going on amid the drama, and why the clutch matters, and speaks to our everyday lives:
When the umpire called “strike three” at the third out, the single voice dissolved into a bellow of incoherent angst and three hundred miles away we knew the man had slumped into his chair with his head in his hand, and his heart full of hate; not for the Yankees—that was a given—but for his own team, and for the game of baseball, itself, of which the late commissioner A. Bartlett Giammati once wrote, “it breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart.”
The heartbreak is what makes it great, and the source of the heartbreak is the clutch—that period of time (and it can last for a moment or for years) when everything meaningful in your life fades into a peripheral nothingness until an outcome is known. In the clutch, love is balancing—one foot, en pointe—along a thin wire of hope, and still determining if, or when, the next foot might be safely employed.
The clutch makes us hold our breath in the name of love. It is the biopsy report we are waiting to hear about on our husband; it is what keeps us from fully sleeping until we hear our kid pull into the driveway; it is the acknowledgment that we lack control over an outcome, and the wondering that comes before the knowing. Within the clutch are contained all the possibilities of our wild imaginings, and it is in those imaginings that we find ourselves hating the object of our love, for making us care so deeply.
Only love can sink us into screaming, ruinous despair while in the depths of a clutch, and of all sports, only baseball can so routinely wear us down to that place.
You can read the whole thing here