Nostalgia and the game • Nick Nunn, columnist
I’ve been accused of being nostalgic. Maybe it’s some sentimental weakness in myself that time hasn’t been able to cure. Who knows where it comes from?
Last year, I found myself thinking about those things that are often described as “uniquely American.” You know… everything that Ken Burns has found it necessary to crystallize in documentary form.
So I began rewatching his series, Baseball.
And, wouldn’t you know it, that old friend Nostalgia came creeping back in.
I wasn’t sure why. And I became fascinated in a style of play that was the way the game was played 100 years ago, small ball.
I was sure of one thing: that way of playing was superior.
Who needs a home run every game? Manufacture a run! I want to see someone try to steal home!
(Mind you, this was at the same time of last years’ World Series. Albert Pujols joined Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson as one of only three players who have ever hit three home runs in a single World Series game. Game 6 was already being called the greatest game in the history of baseball.)
But that’s not the way nostalgia works.
I wanted characters. Mean like Cobb. Stoic like Gehrig. Tortured like… well, so many in history.
I wanted to see some small ball, and I didn’t know where to find it, or if it was to be found anymore at all.
After all, the rules of baseball, the fields, and the equipment have all been changed over the years to promote big hits, which, economically speaking, have kept Major League baseball going.
A crowd likes to stand on its feet – and everyone can see a home run. Turn for a second, and a person might miss a steal (or make one, depending on who isn’t looking).
But back to the point.
As luck would have it, I was able to find a bit of what I was looking for this fall.
Not, however, on a baseball diamond, but on a softball diamond, following the second half of the Morgan County softball season.
There, I found the type of personal connection to the game that I was looking for.
I saw their weaknesses as well as their strengths, learned their personalities on the field.
And there was the small ball!
They would steal a base at the drop of a hat. You could feel the tension in the stands as the girls paused by the bases. Watching every move of the ball and ruthlessly taking advantage of any mistakes made by the opposing team.
Game after game, the players cheered for each other – loudly. It didn’t take long to realize that softball teams don’t need cheerleaders.
They cared. And because they cared, I cared. How could I not?
Ever since the end of the season a couple of weeks ago, I’ve found myself wishing for a softball game in the afternoon; just to spend a little time in the company of a other devoted fans waiting for the next “big” play. I haven’t escaped the grasp of nostalgia quite yet.
And for the rest of you, who haven’t had the chance to experience what you’ve been missing out on all of these years – well, there’s always next season.
Printed in the October 25, 2012 edition