As an American, I am not always privy to what outsiders think of our country. When the opportunity arises to speak to someone from another country, I occasionally ask what their country thinks about America. The answers are varied, as one may expect. When I ask about their own country, I learn many fascinating differences in culture and values. I also almost universally learn that football (what we Americans call soccer) is a unifying feature of the nation. Whatever other challenges face a nation, the nation gathers together in support of its national football team. For Americans, our defining legacy in the sports world has always been baseball. But beyond our national spirit, baseball also teaches a more universal and lasting lesson. In this essay, following the model of the great British author G. K. Chesterton’s Tremendous Trifles, I parse meaning for the Christian life from the wonderful game of baseball.
Baseball, in all its beauty, but especially in its pace of play, reveals to us the dangers of the American pace of life. The pace of American life has become polarized – non-stop busyness defines our work and family life, then any time off is spent gazing passively into a screen. We make no time in American life for introspection; no time to reflect and change for the better; precious little time for genuine human friendship. This lifestyle, I believe, is the greatest threat to the future of baseball – and flourishing in American society. Baseball has spent at least the last decade fending off the criticism that the pace of play is too slow. Games now take on average over three hours and people don’t have the time for such dawdling. With increasing frequency, people tell me baseball is boring and lacks excitement. Such a criticism seems almost inevitable for a culture that demands no silence, no moment of waiting without a smartphone screen, and then collapses into subhumanness in front of a screen instead of getting much needed sleep, time for contemplation, and genuine rest.