Baseball is halfway through the season and the All-Star Break is upon us. This lull in the normal game routine gives me my own hiatus to reflect upon what I love about baseball. And when I sat down to blog about why I love the game and ballparks so much, I struggled with it. How do I say what hasn't been said before? How do I make it not sound trite and too sentimental? How do I offer a new perspective?
No immediate answers came to mind. Plenty of writers have come before me to pen authentic and thoughtful notes on the sport, some right here on HuffPost. Rather than compete, I thought I would just speak from my own heart and talk about what it means to me.
So why do I love it so much?
I love the youthful giddiness I get when I approach a ballpark. Subway stops such as Kenmore Square, 161st St, and Navy Yard peak my attention when I see them on a map. Whether you walk, bike, or drive to the game, I think the same feeling is evoked. At least for me, it's excitement, anticipation and awe. It's a feeling of the generations that have come before me, getting off at the same stop, sharing the love of the team with their offspring, and the circle of life continuing.
I love old ballparks like Wrigley Field and Fenway Park, important reminders and identifications of our past. They connect me to a present community and shared past in a time where we are becoming increasingly disconnected in person. (A great book that talks much more eloquently and in depth about this sense of place and identity is Faithful to Fenway by Michael Ian Borer).
I love that baseball makes me slow down and grounds my frenetic life. I can lose myself in a game after a long day at work, or relax under the April sun after a brutally cold winter. Baseball gives me moments of breath-holding, edge-of-the-seat excitement, for sure. I love the anticipation of watching a double play happening, or a close play at home plate. But the game simultaneously offers me much-needed downtime between plays to connect with friends and family for a few hours.
I love listening to the game on the radio. Each weekend, I have the game on my phone while I work in my garden. Listening to a game on the radio connects me to generations before me when this was the only way to experience the game if you weren't there in person. And each weekend, I put the phone in my pocket, and listen to the same announcer that called the games when I was a kid. The sound of his voice reminds me of lazy summer days on Cape Cod, of playing outside until nightfall, and of growing up in a New England summer. It reminds me of simpler times with less demands, when my brother and I soaked up every last minute of being outdoors in the country. It keeps me connected to my past while I work in my present.
OK, I'll confess, if you haven't realized by now - I'm a big Red Sox fan. I love my team and have been going to games since I was in the womb. But this is a universal baseball love story rather than a Red Sox love story. I go to Nationals games, I go to minor league games, and I visit other ballparks. (If I told you in the beginning I was a Red Sox fan and you root for another team, you may not have read all the way through. Am I right?) But I have to imagine that if you are a baseball fan, some of these truths are universal - whether you're a kid in a field in Illinois going to your first Cubs game, a mom in LA who follows the Dodgers, or a grandfather in Brooklyn who remembers when the Dodgers were there.
I realize modern-day baseball is beset with steroid use, trades, and lucrative contracts. I see some of the ugliness and big business aspects. And I also realize I'm romanticizing the sport some here, swimming in nostalgia and rose-colored glasses. But I'm OK with that, because I love the sport and what I personally get from it. I love the history that comes with shared community, I love the stories of life in ballparks, I love the little kid who comes for the first time and is excited beyond belief to be seeing his or her heroes in person. I love that the "Star Spangled Banner" is played, and God Bless America, and peanuts and hot dogs and popcorn and Cracker Jacks. I love singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" in the seventh inning stretch. I love the goosebumps I get coming up the ramp at Fenway Park - EVERY TIME. I love that I can take my dog to a Nationals game and parade her around the warning track. I love the pennant races chasing magic numbers in September, and the intensity of October. I love that every stadium has their own song or tradition that is incorporated into every game, and all the fans know the routines by heart. In fact, they rely on them. It's good to rely on something every once in a while.
I still believe baseball is good for the soul, and good for our society. It's not perfect, but neither are we. And I still love it, warts and all. So, grab the family, friends, colleagues, or go by yourself. Get some Cracker Jacks, a hot dog and a beer. Slow down, enjoy the summer and fall in love with baseball. Play Ball.
Follow Rachel Verlik on Twitter: www.twitter.com/RachelVerlik