Before we carried world clocks in our purses and pockets, knowing the time fell to the community at large. The sun told the tale of how the day was aging. Watchmen made a living shouting it from street corners. We all used the same clock.
Until we didn’t. You needed your own timepiece. They were gifts, keepsakes, heirlooms. Signals. My great-grandfather made a giant production out of sitting in the front pew and extracting his pocket watch when the priest got verbose. The eighties required multiple plastic neon timepieces. But once we began turning to smartphones to run our lives, we became in synch again. No matter the brand or version, they all use the same radio signal out of an atomic clock in Fort. Collins, Colorado, to measure the hours and the minutes.
This has filtered up to how sports teams keep the clock. Although an untimed game (shut up, pitch clock), baseball has been with us long enough to mark the eras. The Big Red Machine took an entire decade to power up and wind down; the shameful necessity of the Negro Leagues has spoken loudly about the player stats not included in MLB recordkeeping.
But in a moment in human history when we no longer need to synchronize our watches, baseball chimes the progress of the game in a new way for me, and I don’t need to be anywhere near my phone to mark it. In fact, life is better if I’m not.
In my new neighborhood, the bells of our parish actually work and are actually in use. They chime every fifteen minutes. When I’m late for Mass, I’m late for Mass; it’s not the organist getting a jump on things. The bells pull me back into the unwinding of the day when I take to scrolling instead of typing. They have removed my excuses.
And when there’s a game on, the clock is marked in a different kind of way. Fireworks mark happy occasions. A short burst means a home run; a longer display announces a win at game’s end. Silence means either a bullpen collapse or a sudden outburst of wise baserunning. When one of my nephews visited me on a Fireworks Friday, we knew to move outside for a good view of the big show when a series of tiny explosions went off down the street. The game was over, and it had ended well.
Letting the team tell the time means that we are once again relying on light to alert us to a significant event, although flammable packages of brightly colored chemicals are pure nature, they’re a bit more expensive than glancing up at the sun. And it means we’re in community in a new way–as Josh The Pilot and I sat with our meals at Goettafest in Newport this weekend, a sudden flare across the river signaled a homer. The entire population of the tent dropped their mets and brats and burst into applause; we knew, without seeing the score or who had done the deed, that a small victory against the Pirates was now part of the night’s story.
I was concerned about leaving a sense of community behind when I left suburbia, but instead I find that my fellows are now the entire population of Great American Ball Park. In a season of disconnect from America’s Pastime, it’s a lovely way to still pass the time together.