“Is this some kind of religion?” Richard asks. He has risen and stands a few feet away from me, his expression one of absolute bewilderment.”
“It may be, “ I reply, trying to picture the world through his eyes.
“You’re all crazy,” he says with my voice. But we don’t pay much attention to him. Annie is talking to Shoeless Joe, Karin has returned with a hot dog and a Coke. After the national anthem, I watch as Moonlight Graham trots to right field. If he is nervous he does not show it, for his stride is solid and his shoulders confident. He turns to face the infield and pounds his fist into his glove.
“Crazy,” says Richard.
- From Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella
I just finished reading Shoeless Joe, the beautiful baseball novel on which the movie Field of Dreams was based. I bought it at Logan Airport in Boston, on my way home from my first semester at UMass. I devoured it on the plane ride, swept away by the mysticism and romanticism of the book’s pages.
Naturally, the book was better that movie. Immensely so, and different. The famous author Ray kidnaps and takes to Fenway Park is J.D. Salinger. After picking up a hitchhiking Moonlight Graham, the gang breaks into the Twins’ stadium (pre-Metrodome) and takes batting practice in the middle of the night. The themes of family and love, of connections to the earth and something bigger than yourself, themes of dreams flit and float throughout an entirely unrealistic story, bring it to earth and, despite the mysticism, it is a relatable romance that only a baseball fan can truly understand.
I don’t normally read books like this. If it wasn’t about baseball, I’d never pick it up. Mysticism and fantasy just aren’t my things. As I reread this book I wondered why there aren’t more novels about baseball. There is a handful of fantastic baseball fiction on my bookshelf. Why isn’t there more? It seems like baseball lends itself to the metaphors that make fiction work.
I was pondering this question as Opening Day unfolded and I found myself wanting to wax poetic about this holiest of baseball days. I desired to write a beautiful soliloquy to this beautiful game. So, I sat at a keyboard and ran through my options.
Baseball as a metaphor for life? Trite.
Baseball as a connection to generations past, particularly the father-child connection? Hackneyed.
Baseball as poetry, romanticism, and first love? Cliched.
Taking the time to write about how baseball tropes are trite, hackneyed, and clichéd? That is quite possibly the worst kind of cliché out there.
None of that changes the fact the baseball is all of those things. It’s a fantastic metaphor for life. It IS poetic, romantic, and for many, a first love. Its lingering appeal is directly linked to this connection we feel to players past and the fans who passed down their love of baseball.
Baseball is the most clichéd sport out there. You can’t talk about baseball without speaking in clichés. And sure, we all roll our eyes from time to time at the flowery language these clichés draw forth. But, we love these clichés, we need these clichés.
It may be there is no original way to write about or think about baseball. It may be that the poetry of baseball has been waxed more times than a 57 Chevy.
My 10th grade English teacher was a poet, and a devout fan. He counted down the Mariner’s Magic Number in the fall of each year (this was the late 90’s, when they had such a thing) and often scribbled out baseball poems on the classroom chalkboard. But he railed, RAILED, against the use of clichés in both prose and poetry. They were antithetic to his very existence.
So how does a creative type like that become a baseball fan and embrace all the banality that comes with it?
Because the clichés are true. The truthiness (thanks, Stephen Colbert) is stark and vivid and so very real. We love to bask in those clichés that envelope us like a sunny summer afternoon at the ballpark.
The only thing more cliched than baseball may be love. Yet when we feel love we rhapsodize about it as if it’s something new. But anyone can fall in love. Not anyone can be a baseball fan. There are infinite paths to love. There are finite paths to baseball fandom, to understanding the game, to recognizing its tempo in your soul.
These paths are cliched because there are so few. The uninitiated don’t understand and sigh heavily at the metaphors and the rhapsodizing.
But we know. We understand. We are baseball fans.