In a summer of unceasing political divisions, baseball is serving as a welcome respite from the latest ugly salvos in news reports and on social media.
Baseball is not a magic elixir that we can drink to transport us to some alternative reality. But when you sit outside in a baseball park with friends or family members, you can’t help but enjoy watching talented athletes and chatting about what’s going on in people’s lives.
Unlike football or basketball, there isn’t a time clock in baseball, which is precisely why there’s time for people to have good conversations at baseball games. While many use their phones to take photos at the ballpark, most fans in attendance are not constantly looking down at their phones.
The elusive sense of community that so many people are hungering for is present at baseball games, where people from all walks of life congregate, local citizens throw out first pitches and fans cheer for their community’s team.
Before the snow flies, we can still watch the Minnesota Twins and St. Paul Saints, who are both in races to win their divisions. The Twins are battling to best Cleveland in the American League’s Central Division. Meanwhile, the Saints are locked in a three-way contest with Fargo and Chicago to secure two playoff berths.
Great escape valve
On Aug. 5, I was at Target Field when Miguel Sano slammed a pinch-hit home run 443-feet to give the Twins a walk-off win against Atlanta. In that moment, nobody in the ballpark was thinking about politics, projects at work or their to-do lists at home. They were thrilled by the high drama finish and exhilarated that the Twins found a way to win.
At CHS Field in St. Paul, hard-core baseball fans want the Saints to win an American Association title. Yet the Saints, a minor league team, also offer families of all incomes access to a baseball experience. Tickets to Saints games are affordable, so you’ll see lots of families with young children enjoying the games. Many of them are making summer memories and may be less concerned with league titles.
This year, the Saints opened the City of Baseball Museum, which chronicles the rich baseball history of St. Paul. Built at a price-tag of $2 million, fans can tour the well-curated artifacts and exhibits for free.
Winning against the odds
One of the inspiring aspects of baseball is that players from any race, country and economic background can succeed on the baseball diamond. Perhaps the best example of that reality is Mariano Rivera, who was unanimously inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame this year. The phenomenal New York Yankees pitcher reached the Major Leagues after growing up in Panama, where he and his friends played without decent baseball equipment.
Still Rivera’s talent and work ethic catapulted him to the top.
Baseball is a game of first, second and third chances, and the playing field functions as a meritocracy. That point was hit home in July when the Saints hosted a luncheon in advance of the league’s All-Star Game at CHS Field.
The Saints gave Darryl Strawberry, who had struggled mightily with substance abuse, a chance to play baseball in 1996. Strawberry returned to St. Paul this summer to speak at the luncheon, expressing his gratitude for the opportunity the Saints offered him and urging the young All-Star players to respect the game and relish their time in the minor leagues. After a brief stint with the Saints, Strawberry played for the Yankees on three World Series championship teams.
Joining Strawberry on the panel was pioneer Ila Borders, who pitched for the Saints and the Duluth-Superior Dukes in the late 1990s. Borders said she simply wanted to play and be judged on her performance like any other baseball player on the field.
Borders, who is featured in the Saints museum, is a forerunner for Maddy Freking. The 12-year-old standout on the Coon Rapids-Andover team played this summer in the Little League World Series. Freking was the only girl in the 2019 national playoffs. But two decades after Borders played, Freking, a terrific pitcher and second baseman, appears to be getting more societal acceptance than Borders received.
Concentration vs. distraction
Students of baseball love to assess pitch choices, batting lineups, and pitching rotations, and the embrace of analytics has introduced more science into the game. But the rhythm of a baseball game, its length and whether it will be a pitching duel or offensive slugfest cannot be predicted at the game’s outset. Baseball purists appreciate this aspect of the sport.
But some young adults who’ve grown up with mobile devices, and others who like the fast pace of football, grow impatient with the pace of a baseball game. Author Susan Jacoby takes on that challenge in her book, “Why Baseball Matters.” She writes that there’s pressure to alter baseball “based on the dissonance between a game that demands and depends on concentration, time, and memory and a 21st century culture that routinely disrupts all three with its vast menu of digital distractions.” Major League Baseball introduced a few changes in 2018, such as limiting mound visits, to try to shorten game lengths.
Now is not the time to quibble about game lengths. It’s time to seize the opportunity to enjoy the beauty of baseball and visit with your Minnesota neighbors in outdoor parks. The Saints play their last regular season home games this week, and the Twins have 13 home games remaining in September.
If we’re lucky, both teams will be in the post-season playoffs and we can savor our national pastime a little longer.
Liz Fedor is an editor at Twin Cities Business magazine.
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