Read Old Man Scanlon

Defensive Ignorance

21 November 2015

I’ve spent the better part of my life blind to the fine points of our national pastime—more than the fine points. I remember watching baseball after Sunday dinner, on a snowy over-the-air black-and-white twelve-channel television, amused and distracted when Gramp, the family baseball aficionado, nodded off and started to snore. I remember when I thought it was sufficient under any condition to tag the base a runner was heading toward to get him out. I didn’t understand the baseball bromide that winning hinges on pitching, and I remember having no idea that pitchers had a repertoire of techniques that resulted in pitches of distinctly differing trajectories. As far as I was concerned, it was a matter of pure chance from the moment a pitcher touched the ball until it reached the vicinity of the plate. I’ve seen plenty of games which would seem to bear me out.

But now my ignorance is deliberate. I choose it; I cultivate it. It hasn’t been easy to maintain it against societal pressure, and years of freezing my ass off watching my grandson’s early April Little League games somehow encouraged osmosis. My severest temptation to indulge in ignorance-killing baseball enthusiasm is its vocabulary. The allure of the esoteric, the privilege of knowing the in-crowd arcana: I suavely flaunt slider, split-finger, two-seam; cheese and gas trip from my lips. Baseball’s pitching vocabulary beguiles with its workmanlike literalness, its minimally figurative retooling of common words. They feel authentic, unlike the bogus volumetric terms Starbucks tries to foist onto us. But my knowledge is feeble, barely sufficient to avoid suspicious stares when small-talking with strangers.

This year’s season has passed, and any unseemly new knowledge will surely fade from my memory through disuse. I decline to systematize it or try to parlay it into some deep understanding of the game. Some people watch NASCAR for the crashes; some people watch hockey for the fist-fights. I watch baseball to witness unexpected extraordinary feats of pitching, batting, running, catching, jumping, as well as human failure. And I’d miss listening to the on-air experts’ feats of elucidation and commentary if I were to gain any degree of competence. It’s only through ignorance that I can savor baseball’s wonders and capture its surprises as if I were still a child. When I watch baseball I suspend disbelief, just as when I read. Everything I see is a potential goddamn miracle when I don’t have a clue what’s supposed to happen next.