COLUMN: It’s still baseball time: Equilibrium of true American pastime challenges the limits of peak human skill

By Dave Fultz

Fall semester is finally here again, so welcome back to all of you who are veterans of Chambana and a big hello to all the newbies.

I’m back for my final year of school and my second as the regular Tuesday columnist for your favorite campus newspaper’s sports section, so I’ll try to do my best to keep you entertained before my time runs out.

Now that the pleasantries are out of the way, let’s get to business.

With the shortening of summer days and the first hint of changing autumn leaves comes the excitement of football season. NFL training camps have all come to a close, Week 1 is right around the corner and the Illini look poised to erase all memories of their days in the Big Ten’s basement.

Of course I’ll spend a part of my fall enthralled in the exploits of the Orange and Blue – of both the Illini and my Chicago Bears – and maybe even spare a few extra minutes in my annual attempt to avoid embarrassing myself in my fantasy league.

But nothing will be able to steal my attention from baseball’s stretch run for too long.

I’ll be the first one to admit that I’m a bigger geek for baseball than most Trekkies are for Captain Kirk. So it’s no surprise that my first column back will be one that extols the virtues of the national pastime.

We’ll get to the extolling in a second, though, because first I must point out that baseball has something for seemingly everyone on campus this fall. The Cubs, White Sox and Cardinals look as if they’ll all remain in contention for the postseason heading into the final weeks of the season.

And while both Sox and Cards fans have celebrated World Series winners since I’ve been at school, nothing would be able to prepare campus for the bedlam that would ensue should the Cubs finally break through.

Fans who have lived lifetimes filled with equal measures of devotion and frustration would finally get their release.

As a Cubs fan, I can’t even imagine what I’d do, but it’d probably be best not to talk about it. I’m not very superstitious, but just in case jinxes do exist, I don’t want to ruin my shot at being able to bore you all to tears with World Series analysis until January.

All joking aside, this column was supposed to be about glorifying the game as an attempt at bringing some of Football America back to baseball, so let’s get to it.

I recently read a letter written by American philosopher John Rawls and later published in the Boston Review, in which he laid out his reasoning for why baseball is the best game, and I found it fascinating.

In today’s world of contract talks and endorsement deals, it’s sometimes hard to see the game for what it is and see the beauty of the very simplicity that drew us to the game when we were kids. I’m going to lay out a few of Rawls’ observations, and then I’ll wax poetic a bit as I give you a few of my own.

Rawls’ first point is so simple that it is perhaps the most overlooked: Baseball is a game in which the rules produce a near-perfect equilibrium.

The distance of the mound from the plate is such that it is both very difficult to hit a pitched ball and pitch effectively to a talented hitter, and the distance between bases perfectly challenges and displays both the limits and lengths of human skill.

Rawls also highlights the fact that – of major American sports – baseball is the only one in which scoring is not done with the ball. This, he writes, “has the remarkable effect of concentrating the excitement of plays at different points of the field at the same time.”

And combining these two points, along with the fact that baseball has no time restraints, are what make it the perfect game according to Rawls. These three truths are also central to my observation of baseball as an allegory for American life.

In order to score and win the game, a team has to trudge along from base to base to make it home. The game challenges your skills and limits every step of the way, and there is no limit on the number of runs a team can score, except for its own success.

The concept of the American Dream – at least ideally – is just like this.

So even if you’re all wrapped up within Football America, and even if you’ve never really understood the draw baseball has on guys like me, just remember that all you have to do is look a little closer at the simple things that make the game great.

Dave Fultz is a senior in Media. He can be reached at [email protected]