“Baseball,” poet Walt Whitman told Horace Traubel in 1888, “is our game: the American game: I connect it with our national character.” (No, that’s not how it went in Bull Durham. Much has already been said about this in the 29 years since Ron Shelton’s classic hit the silver screen).
Baseball is America’s secret weapon. Since its inception, baseball has been a way for American service members to find common ground, no matter how divergent their backgrounds or education. Soldiers in both blue and gray played baseball to distract themselves from the horrors of the Civil War. In World War II, American GIs played baseball where they could, sometimes alongside storied professionals like Ted Williams and Bob Feller. The final scene of Band of Brothers uses the occasion of a baseball game to tell the audience how the men of Easy Company lived out their lives.
And on a personal note, I brought the glove I’d used since high school with me to Afghanistan in 2002. We never played a game, but there was something comforting about playing catch in a place so foreign.
BASEBALL HAS THE POWER TO UNITE THE COUNTRY
Baseball has brought us together at home, too. Since its inception in 1903, Major League Baseball has skipped the World Series only twice: in 1904 when the National League Champion Giants refused to play the American League Champion Boston Americans, and during the 1994 players strike. By my count, the United States has been at war during 38 of the 113 seasons since that first Series took place, and still the game has gone on despite the conflicts raging abroad.
Following the terrorist attacks on 9/11, Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig cancelled all games for a week. But in October, President George W. Bush, the former general manager of the Texas Rangers, rallied the nation as he threw out the first pitch in Yankee Stadium for game three of the 2001 World Series.
So, if anyone thought attacking the GOP Congressional baseball team on Wednesday morning would divide America, that person hadn’t given much thought to the baseball’s power to unite. Tennessee Republican Rep. Chuck Fleischmann told reporters, “I always felt safe at baseball practice.” Bush’s appearance in 2001 has shown the world that the baseball stadium is America’s “safe space.” Perhaps the shooter wanted to destroy that sense of security.
THE SHOW MUST GO ON
Last night, even though Republican Whip Steve Scalise is still in the hospital and underwent a third surgery on Thursday afternoon, Congress played the Congressional Baseball Game for Charity as it has been regularly (but not annually) since 1909. Almost 25,000 fans, double the usual crowd, filled Nationals Park, in view of the Capitol Dome, in an all-too-rare moment of bipartisan solidarity.
David Bailey, one of the Capitol Police officers wounded Wednesday in Alexandria, made a surprise appearance to throw out the first pitch. The game was nominally played between Republicans and Democrats. Ultimately, though, it was simply two teams of Americans playing their national pastime. Grown men playing a boys’ game.
This moment of unity won’t last. We’ll be back to arguing over the color of the sky in no time. And that’s fine. “We are some ways a dyspeptic, nervous set,” Whitman said. “Anything which will repair such losses may be regarded as a blessing to the race.”