Reaching deeply into my political science degree, I offered the following analysis concerning the funeral of George H.W. Bush this week:


As you can see, I am squeezing every penny’s worth of value out of my parents’ tuition money.

Sharp-eyed The Readers will notice that the image of Awkward Pew is taken from a DVR recording. Massively with-it member of the young generation that I am, this was achieved via the highly technical process of aiming my camera phone at the television screen.

I have been taking all C-SPAN has had to give this week, for I am a complete pomp and circumstance whore. If there’s a procession, rifles, uncomfortable shoes, music nobody can sing properly, and big wide doors for people in uniforms to hold open, I will show up and I will be deeply moved. It could be the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics. It could be Opening Ceremonies of a new Kroger’s in Avondale. I’m there with my camera.

(Consider this a plug for C-SPAN for all news, btw. It’s my go-to. It’s 95% non-partisan, and talk is kept to an absolute minimum so as to allow ambient noise to carry the story. As C-SPAN carries mostly government news, there’s a lot of standing around, but that’s where the DVR comes in, and, as a baseball fan, I feel right at home. Sometimes the feed consists of one camera shot and technicians yelling about wide angle lenses at one another. Sometimes producers even remember to identify the people we’re looking at. But otherwise, there aren’t any ginormous underbanners, crawls, half-screen popups, of eight faces in a single screen all yelling at once. You are left to your own thoughts and conclusions. Oh, you’ll hear stupid on C-SPAN, but that’s only when callers are invited to dial in from their rotary phones in the kitchen, at which point you can rest assured the action of any major story is over and there’s nothing left but the rantings of the landline-havers until the next Honor Guard appears on a tarmac, and you’re free for extended snack preparation.)

“I was thinking how stuffy it seemed,” someone commented regarding all the casket-carrying and slow-walking.

“Stuffy is the glue of the Republic, my friend,” I typed back, as I launched into yet another snack-pause, but the more I reflect on it, the truer it is. I consider George Washington our greatest President because he is perhaps the first leader in the history of man to willingly and quietly turn over the reins of power in a measured and peaceful manner– this when he could have easily been President for life, if he so wished, installing policy buddies to carry on his politics long after life left him. But the construction of the White House was beginning at the end of his second term, and he probably didn’t want the hassle of applying for an EZPass.

So when we see four former Presidents, plus the current occupant, all lined up together like this, even though you can practically see the hate rays waving out of their bodies towards one another, they sit there anyway. Even though it’s awkward. Even though, as I avidly kept expecting, the church roof was liable to cave in at any moment on the lot of them. Even though they were, in effect, watching their own future funerals.

The flags, the measured cadences, the military bands: These rituals are expected and “normal” at such a time, and because we expect them, and because we saw them the last time a President dies and will see them again when the next one does, they are soothing. They remind us that though the leader passes, even though long out of office, the Republic continues.

George HW Bush 028

This is the comfort we find in sports, and in baseball in particular, which has been our companion in this fashion longer than any other: There’s a National Anthem, and then the first pitch, and then the players are introduced, and then they play, and then we feel despair and wonder where the playoffs went. But it’s a comfortable rhythm, one which resets each day with each game, and disrupting the pattern signals a not-quite-rightness that ripples across class, creed, and race.

17 Responses

  1. msanmoore

    And for the most part, the ritual of the game is the same from the Rookie leagues all the way to the Show. It’s a comfort that we should revel in, not just take for granted. Our rituals mark our time. That’s a good thing.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Yes, exactly. I am always moved by “My Old Kentucky Home” at the Derby, but the first one after 9/11 had me almost sobbing because I was so grateful for the continuity and confirmation of “normal.”

      • msanmoore

        My return to “normal” after 9/11 was the annual golf outing at a course near the Grand Rapids airport. All of the sudden, there were planes in the sky again.

      • Mary Beth Ellis

        It was such an odd and solemn time.

  2. NorMich Red

    Something I got to witness related to this week’s events and the funeral ceremonies for GHWB 41. While living in Denver in the 1980’s, before moving to Upper Michigan and rediscovering the Midwest, we regularly tapped into our baseball appetite by watching several versions of AAA ball in old Mile High Stadium. (Including one version of the Denver “Zephyrs” that featured many future Reds including Eric Davis, Kal Daniels, Paul O’Neill, Chris Sabo, Rob Dibble, and others. We got to see the precursor of Wire-to-Wire 1990.) In part to promote Denver’s MLB-readiness and eagerness, July 4th fireworks games regularly were witnessed by crowds exceeding 70,000, a pretty cool experience for minor league ball. In addition, promoters regularly pushed a Denver MLB expansion bid by hosting Old-Timers’ games in Mile High that, likewise, regularly drew 50,000-plus crowds. One such game took place in 1984, My wife and our 2 then-young boys, both itching to see “real baseball” while we shared with the boys stories about the icons of baseball history, were in attendance. At that one, recently “retired” GHWB41, a former All-American first baseman at Yale who played in the first College World Series, came, donned a Denver Bears (another Minors’ franchise name for years in Denver) uniform, and played first base for one of the old-timers’ teams of stars. As I recall, he played maybe 2-3 innings and had one at-bat. A pretty cool experience. The standing ovation he got from the big crowd brought up the goose bumps…regardless of ones’ political leanings and feelings about the ex-President. The boys, my wife, and I have rehashed that story a bit this week…

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      That’s awesome! The Bushes truly are a baseball family.
      The closest I ever got to Mile High was lunch at a McDonalds across the street from it. I just remember row on row of orange seats.

    • msanmoore

      The OpEd piece by former President Clinton last Saturday morning in the Washington Post talked about the note 41 left him in the Oval Office. There’s a rich tradition that had incredible meaning.

      • Mary Beth Ellis

        I think I remember Reagan leaving Bush a few acorns to feed the squirrels on the balcony outside the Oval.

  3. Scott C

    It is amazing to me that the some of the same “news” people that were so harsh to him while he was in office had such kind words for Bush 41. That was the way it was with Reagan and will probably be for the four in the picture you snapped. It is sad that it takes a death for people to remember the good a person did and come together. But that is one of the great things about baseball, it can bring people together who are on opposite poles of political, religious or other views and they can enjoy one another company and talk peacefully. I am for more baseball and less politics. Good article as always Mary Beth.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Many thanks. I hope baseball remains as apolitical as possible for this very reason.

      • NorMich Red

        One of the recent pieces that showed how baseball can bridge the sociopolitical gap was reading about how much of a passion the late conservative columnist/commentator Charles Krauthammer had for baseball and how he and some friends far on the other side of the political spectrum attended games together and left their politics somewhere else to opine and share the Great American Game. A lesson there…

      • Mary Beth Ellis

        That’s called focusing on what’s important in life… ⚾️

  4. WVRedlegs

    It is hard not to like a President who also had baseball running through his veins. I have read and heard many stories of him as a 1B at Yale and his love of the game. He was in Cincinnati for a Opening Day and hosted the last Reds World Series champions at the White House. So there was a nice, small Cincinnati – Bush 41 relationship to look back upon.
    There was the Bush family involvement with the Texas Rangers as part owners.
    Bush 41 and Barbara were often seen at Houston Astros games over the years.
    Carter and Rosalynn were somewhat Braves fans.
    Bush 43 and Laura are big baseball fans.
    The Clintons are not seen as much of baseball fans.
    Obama and Michelle are also not seen as much of baseball fans, but are more into the basketball. Obama was big on March Madness. He did throw out the first pitch for the Nationals once or twice. Gladly, he didn’t look like that former Cincinnati Mayor who once infamously threw out the first pitch.
    Thanks for reminding of the small Reds – Bush 41 connection.

    • WVRedlegs

      “that former Cincinnati Mayor ” does not equal Sean Casey. Not that mayor.

      • lwblogger2

        Mallory, and that was the most pathetic display I’ve seen for a first pitch.

    • lwblogger2

      George W. BUSH 43 also threw out a 1st pitch at a Reds opening day. I had fantastic seats but man I was sick as a dog and the weather was Cincy awful.