30 September 2011
If the folklore's not apocryphal, during the war GIs in the ETO used baseball questions when they needed to test the authenticity of any ostensible American who didn't have the proper credentials. I'd have been shot as a German spy, fine Irish name and command of English notwithstanding. Complete lack of interest in baseball, indeed, any sport, would have been the death of me.
My memory was adequate—I remember an old girlfriend's license plate number and my locker combination—I just refused to store player rosters, batting averages, and World Series data in it. My dorky body, now an old but untrustworthy friend, was never much use in athletics. Combine these two factors with an inclination to shy away from anything that I knew I couldn't do on the first try, and you've got a sure-fire recipe for sports incompetence, and then avoidance. So why do I now find myself sitting in front of a television enjoying Red Sox games? I could say that I'm researching to meet the obligation of all American essayists to write about baseball, but it's more likely I'm now in my dotage.
You'd think your brain would know when it's broken, but usually it just can't do it. It seems to have some sort of adaptive software that constantly weighs what it's doing and thinking, and finds it always to be internally consistent. I have experience with hypoglycemia and depression, both of which cause behavior that's clearly aberrant to the nominally objective external observer, but which the affected brain insists is perfectly normal. It's like hardware diagnostics from PDP-11 days—the only software that would run when your computer was so messed up nothing else would. Maybe it's just the nearly infinite human capacity for self-delusion. But watching baseball is so anomalous that even my brain recognizes it as a sign of serious derangement.
More truthfully, I don't really believe that I like baseball now because I'm senile. My conversion to the Dark Side was gradual, starting with my grandson's participation in Tee-Ball. Following that I spent many a frozen-butted April Saturday watching him progress through his Little League years, until at the end he was playing something that really looked a lot like baseball. And watching him play catch with his dad taught me it was possible that a normal, fulfilling life might include sports.
As pack animals, it's our nature to identify with a team, and say "we" instead of "the Red Sox." As an antisocial loner, I don't go there. I have no emotional attachment to even the Sox, our local team. I'm not "devastated" or "gutted," to quote fans, that the Red Sox failed to make the playoffs: with no little sarcasm my friend Rene countered such news with, "This affects my life how?" I don't care that their September collapse was historic. I don't care if Terry Francona gets fired. I don't care who wins the World Series. I don't care whether the Yankees suck.
But I love to see the Sox pack get its teeth into a ball game. I love to see sport in which a team doesn't subsume its members, whose individuals remain identifiable. I love to watch players who may be egotistic prima donnas but don't seem like thugs. I love to watch experts perform amazing feats, observe their behavior dealing with mistakes and the randomness that the game throws at them, and listen to the cognoscenti bitch and moan and prognosticate. I love the spectacle of fans turning on erstwhile winners. And I prefer to do it from the detached vantage point of invincible ignorance of any but the simplest rules, strategies, and politics of the game. The time is past when I would have been embarrassed to admit my ignorance; increasing age brings me the gift of shamelessness. I don't need to be one of the experts.