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Sunday, October 28, 2007

When did "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" stop being enough?

I grew up loving (and playing) baseball.  One of the great things about this wonderful pastime is that every single game begins with the singing of 'The Star Spangled Banner'... so much so that to this day I mentally append the words "Play Ball!" directly after " ... and the home of the brave" no matter when or where I hear it.

From the point where the crowd starts to cheer and the athletes don their caps, the game of baseball has always been enough.  The players play their hearts out and the crowd does its part to participate... but the only de rigeur participation from that point on is the singing of 'Take Me Out To The Ballgame' during the seventh inning stretch. 

The sport simply slays me with its beauty and simplicity!

In fact, every single time I watch 'Field of Dreams' I cry like baby when James Earl Jones (as Terence Mann) intones:

"Ray, they'll come... And they'll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They'll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they'll watch the game and it'll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they'll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again."

Dammit!  I'm even crying now just writing that!

Then, at the end of the 2001 baseball season, a despicable act of terrorism awakened a full-throated, flag-waving patriotism in America that had been slumbering since the end of WWII.  Suddenly flags that had languished in dusty closets for decades were flying around the clock from every porch and balcony (sending octogenarian 'Legionaires into fits over the sight of 'old glory' flying in the rain and in the dark). 

And overnight, 'God Bless America' became a fixture during every ball-game's seventh inning stretch.

Don't get me wrong, during the year following 9/11 the painful memory of our losses, and our repeated public acknowledgment of our love for America, brought a cathartic tear to every eye as we paused from the American Pastime to revel in our incredible good fortune at being Americans.  For many of us, singing this song became the grown-up analogue of facing the flag flying in the corner of the classroom and reciting 'The Pledge of Allegiance'... a collective experience with deeply personal significance.

But as time marched on, a strange thing began to happen:  People began to forget.  While they continued to dutifully sing 'God Bless America' at every sporting event and public gathering, they began to forgot why they were singing it. 

And while we continued to sing 'God Bless America' out of habit, the reason we were singing it - the war on global terror - somehow became a partisan issue.  Somewhere along the way an alarming number of people arrived at the horribly illogical idea that the war on terror was entirely to blame for terror in the first place.  Yet even as many began to flee from overtly patriotic behavior, they also shrank from the very idea of removing this vestigial act of patriotism from their sporting events.

Personally, I think that the singing of patriotic songs is a wonderful thing that should be encouraged and never, under any circumstances, looked down upon as corny or old-fashioned.  But the same can be said of folk songs and 'classic' rock.  Heck, if we somehow worked 'My Country Tis Of Thee' into the rotation we might even snare a few British fans for the quintessentially American sport since they are passingly familiar with the tune. 

The point I'm trying to make is that anything that has become part of our national memory/consciousness has the power to evoke rich emotional memories of simpler times... of simpler decisions... of innocence.  But these bits of our collective past should be shared freely, not under duress.

Just as I would never oblige anyone to sing 'Take me out to the ballgame', I find that the singing of 'God Bless America' has become just that; an obligation.  I get the feeling that the first major franchise to completely drop the practice of letting some quasi-celebrity belt out a wince-worthy rendition of this patriotic anthem at their big games would risk being labeled un-American.

America is a great nation full of great people, and we have earned the right to refuse to do anything reflexively or out of a sense of obligation.   We pride ourselves on our traditions and our pastimes but have forgotten that both were borne of choice... not guilt or pressure. 

Nobody demanded that beer be designated the very best beverage to wash down peanuts and Crackerjacks... it just became so. 

No one mandated that a well-turned 6-4-3 double play be described as 'Tinker to Evers to Chance' by sportscasters who hadn't even been born when those storied players trod the grassy infields of summer.  But rare is the fan who doesn't catch (and love) the reference.

I'm here to suggest that maybe... just maybe it's time to put 'God Bless America' back in the closet with our dew-soaked flags... ready to be brought out for spontaneous ceremonies and annual holidays.  You see, playing baseball in October is, in and of itself, a patriotic act that needs no other additional pomp or ceremony to render it a source of deep national pride. 

As far as I'm concerned they should make a basic understanding of the game an essential part of the test for anyone wishing to become a naturalized citizen.  Knowing how many Representatives sit in the house or how many votes it takes to override a presidential veto will not help an immigrant become a better American.   But having a solid understanding of the logic behind the infield fly rule and a healthy disdain for the DH are both essential to a smooth absorption into American society.

I think it's time we reminded ourselves what a wonderful country the United States is and how fortunate we are to have so many fine cultural touchstones to carry us through good times... and bad.  And by all means, let a tear drip from every eye during the singing of the national anthem at the start of each game.

But the only thing dripping during the seventh inning stretch should be our beer as we carry it - and an arm full of peanuts and Crackerjacks - back from the concession stand while singing 'Take me Out To The Ballgame' along with whoever has inherited the august mantle from the late, great Harry Caray .

Note:  For anyone who feels like saying hello during game 4 of the World Series tonight, I will be setting up a chat box here on treppenwitz so I won't feel quite so all alone.   Just don't try to talk to me during the seventh inning stretch because I'll be upstairs waking Gilad and Ariella with a whispered rendition of 'Take Me Out To The Ballgame' so they can come down and watch the last few innings of the game before getting ready for school.

Posted by David Bogner on October 28, 2007 | Permalink

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I would probably have a "healthy disdain for the DH " if I knew what it is

Posted by: asher | Oct 28, 2007 1:21:21 PM

Let's compromise and replace "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" with Hatikvah? (It would bring a tear to my eye.)

Posted by: Bob | Oct 28, 2007 2:18:20 PM

Hi Trep,

A few other words on musical sports traditions. The Baltimore Orioles sing "Thank G-d I'm a Country Boy" after "Take Me Out to the Ballgame". Nobody else ever sang "Take Me Out..." until decades after Harry made it famous. And, I still remember Kate Smith singing "G-d Bless America" before Philadelphia Flyers games.

And, as a final note, I know it's probably damn unpatriotic to say it, but I wish baseball games would start with a video of Ray Charles singing "America the Beautiful", rather than "The Star Spangled Banner".

Enjoy the game.

Posted by: dfb1968 | Oct 28, 2007 3:21:56 PM

As far as I'm concerned they should make a basic understanding of the game an essential part of the test for anyone wishing to become a naturalized citizen.

I agree, and would take it further. David, I've said before that we ought to teach the Arabs baseball. Not just budding US citizens, but the entire Middle East. An understanding of baseball might help the Arabs rise above the honor shame rut and teach humility and patience and optimism.

And if it matters, all the games I went to this past summer, granted they were Class Double A, but during all of them we sang Take me Out to the Ball Game...

Posted by: Oceanguy | Oct 28, 2007 3:29:39 PM

I think this quote came from Jim Leyland, one year that he was managing a truly awful team:
"I knew it would be a long season when on Opening Day, one of my players turned to me during the Star-Spangled Banner and said, 'Every time I hear that song, I have a bad game.'"
Enjoy the Series! (Bet you probably are at this point.)

Posted by: psachya | Oct 28, 2007 4:37:28 PM

It is not uncommon to find Pete Rose hanging out at my gym. And every time I see him I get a little thrill out of it. He never played for my team and I certainly didn't like the Big Red Machine, but I can't see Pete without thinking of Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Ken Griffey, George Foster, Tom Seaver and of course Sparky Anderson.

Anyway, in spite of Pete's troubles it is hard not to appreciate a guy who played for as long as he did and as hard as he did. I never doubted that he played because he loved the game and that seems to be missing from some of today's players.

Posted by: Jack | Oct 28, 2007 7:59:34 PM

in the ny town where i grew up there are three streets which intersect each other named: tinker, evers and chance. of course, you must take tinker to get to evers to get to chance! clever, if you ask me.

Posted by: nikki | Oct 28, 2007 8:38:04 PM

um... Dave, isn't it YOUR team that at some point in the game (thought it was the 7th inning stretch) sings "Sweet Caroline" - - what the HELL does THAT have to do with baseball?!!!! I'm jes sayin...

Posted by: Val | Oct 29, 2007 1:15:00 AM

Um... people have tried to explain the sport a million time s to me over the past 12 years... and yet it is still as incomprehensible as when I first arrived in the country. Now a good SOCCER game... anytime, really, anytime! : ) I have a feeling that some things can't really be "naturalized"... and soccer vs. baseball may just be one of them. : )

Posted by: Irina | Oct 29, 2007 6:20:25 AM

Take Me Out to the Ballgame is an old song, but it is a minhag of relatively recent vintage. As far as God Bless America goes, well, it is rare that I have no use for an Irving Berlin song, but that may be the one that comes closest to meaning nothing to me. It was in response to that song that Woody Guthrie wrote "This Land is Your Land," a far superior song.
You neatly set up a straw man in your discussion oof terrorism and it's roots, but frankly, I don't have the time to tear apart your assertions about the absurdity of a position which you grossly misrepresent.
Mazal TOv on the Sox, now that we won't have A-Rod to kick around anymore, I am sure you will have a tougher time keping my boys out of the WS.

Posted by: jordan Hirsch | Oct 29, 2007 9:43:48 PM

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