I’m always fascinated about what the rest of the world has to stay about the United States when they think we’re not listening. From Top Gear/The Grand Tour, for example, I learned that we’re called “America” rather than the United States; that they think our coffee is weak; and they are baffled by our gigantic grocery stores and gigantic everything else.
This led me to wonder what other nations might have to say about baseball. Most American culture sites emphasize its likeness to cricket, “but shorter.” An inning is “a period of play” and “one eats greasy foods as part of the experience.”
Fair enough. I cannot imagine someone plopping me down in front of a baseball game with no idea as to what’s going on. It must seem terribly slow and rather pointless. But then, so is the entirety of the Star Wars prequel trilogy, and that didn’t stop us from forging ahead with it.
Having exported baseball, I suspect we became lazy on the matter of producing lesser American-made goods, such as muscle cars and every possible form of Batman. We figured there was no topping ourselves, and, in the words of Dave Barry describing Spain, “decided to get drunk and become a third-world power.” There’s no other explanation for the precipitous slide in the quality of just about everything the United States has done since we achieved Peak Baseball with Johnny Bench’s appearance on Hee Haw.
And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we’ve failed to improve our standing in the world now that soccer is creeping in on baseball’s territory. The nature of World War II spread our game beyond our own hemisphere, and even though we packed up and left most occupied places, we left our gloves and our bats behind.
That is the nature of Americans. We’re a hodgepodge; we’re more than happy to share some of the podge that we’ve hodged. We devastated Japan, then planted baseball culture that now rivals anything America enjoyed in the heyday of the 50s.
It’s difficult to consider the wider implications of what baseball has granted when the home team fails to win a no-hitter. Are the teams stretched too thin, now? By spreading baseball, have we somehow diluted it? But consider the Cuban players who have pulled themselves into freedom with their prowess at the plate; they know there’s more at stake than a good time at the ball orchard.
In this sense, baseball is a diplomacy tool and a cultural marker. We don’t see it because we grew up surrounded by its nomenclature and its cliches, its reflection of the best and the worst of us. No one has to teach a native Cincinnatian the basics of baseball, even if, like me, the child cannot hit, throw, or catch to save a life. It was infused. It’s there; it always has been and always will be.
I suppose this all makes it easy to take our baseball heritage for granted, both nationally as well as here at home. It’s easy to rest easy, and complacency is always Step One of losing a beloved.. But for now, no matter how much greasy food we pile into the parks, you’ll look up from those nachos as soon as the bat cracks.