Bird that Sings

November 10, 2010

Baseball in Wartime/Every Season tells a story, don’t it? #9

Filed under: Sports,The Philadelphia Perspective,Uncategorized — admin @ 3:16 pm

Every season tells a story and for now, the story of this season is the San Francisco Giants and their improbable World Series victory.

While nobody thinks of San Francisco as a baseball town, the Giants made it into a Major League City when they moved here in 1958. That was a big thing back in the American Century and the City’s never forgotten.

Last Wednesday, they had a parade for the Giants and in San Francisco, for that one moment, baseball was king again.

From where I sat across the Bay, you could almost hear the roar of the near hysterical crowds thronging the downtown — not that big a place — in the hundreds of thousands. On this side of the Bay though, the only way you’d notice was the heavy action around the local BART station.

At the grocery store, where I was earlier that day, one of the clerk/cashiers is a visible, vocal and longtime Giants fan and all the other fans were crowded around him.

One woman says she can’t believe the Giants won; she can’t even believe they got to the World Series, she was sure the Phillies were going to beat them like a drum. The other older folk hanging around the baseball register nod sagely in agreement, but on the way to store I passed about ten kids skateboarding together on a side street.

This particular neighborhood has always been a baseball hotbed and on weekend mornings, there’s a guy on a loudspeaker broadcasting the Little League games at the local middle school, waking everybody up for several miles around.

Of course this is also Oakland A’s territory and this year’s A’s were the most boring team in memory. The A’s sucked the life out of baseball around here the past couple of seasons, and a lot of people even suspect it was on purpose. They think the A’s are actually trying to hold down attendance so they can force the League to let them move to San Jose.

There’s a lot of reasons for kids around here not to follow baseball too closely. But not that many years ago, this many twelve year olds playing together on the street would have been playing some kind of ball.

Now, no one plays baseball on the street anymore. It’s organized ball or nothing.

There are many reasons for the decline of baseball in America and that’s one of the biggest: that kids don’t play it anymore, though they might pursue it in Little Leagues with some bigger purpose in mind. Of course, since the white flight of the 1960s hollowed out most of the big cities of the country — Detroit, Cleveland, St. Louis, etc. — there’s no street for a lot of kids to play in.

And then, too, as many have said, sports are not a pleasure in America anymore. They are big business, and we are no longer fans, we are sports consumers.

The only reason that the almost farcical attempt to turn baseball into a spectacle hasn’t killed it off completely is  there’s a part of the game that’s out of their league.

That’s the part of the game inside of us.

We know the game as a whole isn’t as good as it was thirty, forty or even fifty years ago — nor are the players.  Still, we go to games when we can.  We watch on TV, usually while we’re doing other things. We read the box scores, follow the standings, think about trade possibilities and, as we do, are occasionally transported back to other seasons, other players, other times.

This thing inside that binds us to our teams, and sometime even our towns, is what they call the limbic connection.

The limbic brain is the part that sits under the cerebral cortex and on top of the reptile brain. The cerebral cortex in turn is what allows humans and other animals who have one, to reason.

Birds have a very, very small cerebral cortex — as good as not having one — but as old Charles Darwin first observed with songbirds, their music is an expression of incredible complexity. The music of songbirds governs their social interactions: where they’re flying to and when; how they’ll mate. But it’s also a fantastic, collectively composed, yet improvised expression and it all comes from the limbic brain.

And the truth is, that’s where the music of human beings comes from as well. It’s why you often hear musicians say “I wasn’t playing; the music was playing me.”

The limbic connection to-all-being is the truth behind the metaphor of Eden in the Bible, before Eve took that big bite out of the Apple of consciousness.

And it’s why, against all reason, we follow our teams, which are mostly owned by rich, egomaniacal Philistines and composed of well paid mercenaries from other towns and countries who for this one season or two have joined your team, the one you’ve been following all your life. And so then are joined limbically to you and your tribe, your town… forever.

If you don’t follow sports, and maybe even if you do, this will all sound like a load of crap, but it’s true.

As the famous baseball fan William Faulker once wrote, “the past is not dead, it’s not even past.”

Oddly after I wrote the previous line, I Googled it and found it had been used before. It’s the first line of the introduction to the ESPN Encyclopedia of Baseball, which I’ve never read or even heard of before this moment. You couldn’t make this stuff up.

Anyway … back in Philadelphia the reality has set in, along with the first nasty weather, that having the best team in baseball on paper doesn’t really matter.

And while there’s bound to be muttering among the baseball cognoscenti that the Giants are not worthy champions, I’d disagree. The Giants are not the worst World Series winner I’ve ever seen — that would have to be the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals — but as a wise man said, the best team paper almost never wins.

And then too, pitching is 75% of baseball. On those two criteria alone, the Giants — like ‘em or not — are worthy and representative World Series Champions.

For the rest of us, there’s always next year.

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