Baseball is not religion. In Boston, it works like religion. I imagine that has something to do with the fact that this is a pretty Catholic town; but I think it probably has more to do with the fact that, when faced with loss or defeat, you have two choices: give up entirely, or believe so strongly that your belief becomes more important. Bostonians have chosen the latter, and you’re entitled to think that’s less honorable than it is dumb. We are, after all, just a bunch of idiots.
Recently I have been questioned for taking up this thing — baseball, the Red Sox — as my own, despite being from Albany, despite not paying attention to it until college. Perhaps I am in fact guilty of that thing I so despise, the “nostalgia without history” that Donald Hall (also a New Englander, also a serious Red Sox fan) writes about. I’ll readily admit that I’m the type of person who takes an interest in the things her friends seem to care about, if only to understand why they find them so compelling. If that is a poor reason to adopt something, well, I’m guilty. Half the music I listen to was recommended to me by someone else. Same with the books I read. Am I unusual in this, though? Is that even a defense?
Back in June, I said the following on Wally’s blog:
I’m also reminded of Donald Hall’s essay Reasons for Hating Vermont, in which he speaks of “nostalgia without history”— bascially, inauthenticity— as a menace which has grabbed hold of and been assumed into the image of Vermont and which threatens to conquer New Hampshire. While he probably doesn’t give due credit to a goodly portion of the Vermont population, he hits the nail on the head in terms of highlighting a specter which haunts not just our romanticized ideal of New England but the entire United States. We’re in love with the inauthentic and the insincere, the colorful and soulless, the stuff that gives the illusion of substance without actually being substantive. Why? It’s easy, and we have, in our nation’s prosperity and relative lack of turmoil, become fundamentally lazy. Though in our everyday lives we are far away from the plucky industry, innovative thinking, and fierce independence we believe defines our nation, we can still believe in these ideals, for if ever we begin to doubt them we can always go watch Hollywood’s latest take on an unlikely hero doing extraordinary things, or American tourists turning Foreign Country upside down with hilarious hijinks, or football/baseball/basketball/hockey bringing the town together, and leave thinking about how that spirit endures despite the fact that we’ve just spent the last two hours sitting on our asses in a dark room.
I laughed out loud when I read this back to myself, because it really does make me look like quite the hypocrite, doesn’t it? Ah, well, I’m willing to be skewered for this, if that’s how the analysis falls. Maybe I am a baseball carpetbagger (though I’d still say that where I grew up is more New England than it is NYC, if that’s a point in my favor). In my defense, though, I do think I have come at this with authenticity and genuine interest. I’m not doing it to look cool, or just to have another thing in common with my friends. I’m not going to hang on to some interest I don’t find personally fulfilling just because my friends do. (For instance, some of my best friends are really into poker. I tried it for a little while, found it interesting but not captivating enough to want to be serious about it, and I don’t really play anymore.) I just happen to stick with the things that do catch, for the most part.
In terms of professional basball as a despicable industry of millionaires — the ins and out of which I’m learning about in Moneyball, which is so far very interesting — well, yes, granted. Perhaps it’s utterly stupid to believe that the hometown team is really about the hometown. (I think that, despite the fact that the players aren’t from around here, it still is; and I think it’s good for a city to have things to rally around and be proud of, be they a Red Sox victory or the first gay marriages being performed at Cambridge City Hall. The latter is more meaningful, more important in what it accomplishes for the wider world, but the effect of local pride is still there.) Perhaps it’s stupid to think that baseball matters. Here’s the thing, though: it matters as much as we believe it does. I’d guess it’s more interesting, more challenging, to have to question your beliefs. Isn’t that the true appeal of religious belief — not to have this infallible thing to fall back on, but to have something to bounce ideas off of, to question, to wrestle with, to try to understand in spite of it being by its nature unknowable? Faith is a challenge, and I think it’s a good exercise for the minds and spirits of thinking people, be it faith in God or the Red Sox or your friends and family or whatever.
Perhaps I should temper my posts here with this caveat: I’m thinking about all this stuff, too. I’m admittedly new to this, and of course it’s a different experience for me. Whether or not this warants my time and interest, I’m finding it fascinating, and I’m learning a lot, not just about baseball but about my friends and myself and my town. I like thinking through the whys of this: why does this matter to people, why should it be a big deal, why is this a billion-dollar industry? What’s good about it and what’s bad? I realize my blog has become somewhat fixated on the matter, but that should be a good sign that this is making me think.
And, yes, it is still fun to watch the games and root for the Red Sox. Maybe I could be doing something better with my time, but I’ve chosen to do this. At least until the Red Sox win the World Series.