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This has made an appearance on my blog before, but Opening Day deserves a few traditions. So here we go again.

I have always been a big sports fan. I got that from my dad, saw it in my grandfathers, and found it in all my friends. Now I’m passing it on to my sons. Chicago-born, I’ve been a lifelong Bears, Bulls, Blackhawks, and Sox fan. The rest of the extended DeYoung clan roots for the Cubs (and I was happy for them last season), but my dad had the good sense to switch loyalties with the Go-Go Sox of ’59, and now I’ll be a Sox fan for life. Likely my boys will be too, though they’ve grown up exclusively in Michigan and never lived a day in Illinois. I feel for them, taking the same road I did: living in Michigan and rooting for Chicago. I hated the Bad Boys, and my sons are learning to be righteously annoyed with the Tigers. Enmity is unspiritual in the rest of life, but not in sports. It’s a sign of respect reserved for perennial powerhouses. Nobody hates the Jacksonville Jaguars.

This week marks the beginning of baseball, for 150 years, our national pastime. Football may be the king of revenue and ratings, March Madness may be the most enjoyable three weeks of sports, the NHL may be the obsession north of the border, and the NBA may have bigger star power, but there is still no sport in this country better than baseball. I will never forget the ’85 Bears or MJ and the Bulls during the 90s. It’s been fun to watch the Blackhawks succeed in the last few seasons, and having lived in East Lansing for 13 years I now bleed green and white. But if I had just one sporting event to watch in person sometime in my life it would be a World Series game with the White Sox. Preferably a Game Seven winner, but I don’t want to be picky.

I know the many knocks on baseball: The games are too slow. The season is too long. The contracts are too big. I know about steroids and strike-shortened seasons. I know the players chew and spit and adjust themselves too much. I know every pitcher (except for the now retired Mark Buehrle) takes too much time in between pitches. I know that purists hate the DH rule and almost everyone hates the Yankees. I understand if baseball is not your thing. You don’t have to like our national pastime.

But you should.

I’ve taken my older kids to basketball games and football games–terrific experiences. But it’s not like your first baseball game: the wide open and immaculately kept spaces of green, the sharp diamond perfectly groomed, the organ bellowing out a kitschy tune. People sing the national anthem louder at baseball games. The hot dogs are better too. At most parks you can find seats cheap enough for families. And when you’re there, you’ll see an old man sitting by himself with a scorecard, just like he’s done for 40 years.

Baseball is unique in the pantheon of professional American sports. It’s the only one where time doesn’t end your game. It’s the only one where offense and defense are totally compartmentalized. And it’s the only sport that actually works on radio. Have you ever tried listening to football on the radio. It’s better than nothing, but you can’t picture the action. You only get updates as the action unfolds. It’s the same with basketball and hockey. There’s a lot of energy, but it’s too much to see in your head. Baseball, on the other hand, is the perfect sport for radio. It’s slow and it’s routine. You can picture a backdoor slider in your head. You know what a sharp single to right looks like. You can see the ball sailing deep into center field in a way you could never see a run up the middle on radio.

I love football, but I love baseball more because it’s football’s complete opposite. It’s pastoral instead of militant. You can get your first chance at 27, instead of being finished at 26.  Every game doesn’t matter. The season stretches across three seasons instead of just one. Its pace is deliberate. The drama is subtle. The celebrations are understated. In football, every play is punctuated with some choreographed gesticulation. In baseball, the players honor the shortstop’s diving catch by throwing the ball to each other.

Baseball is the only sport where the players are not only doing things normal people can’t do nearly as well, they’re doing things normal people can’t do at all. I can make a basket. I can throw and catch a football. I can kick a soccer ball. I can’t hit a major league fast ball (let alone a filthy curve). Baseball is more like real life where you fail more than you succeed. Two made shots a night in basketball means your terrible. Two hits per night in baseball makes you a legend.

Baseball has the best stats, the best trading cards, the best box scores, and the best announcers. Of the four major sports in America it’s the one with the smallest gap between the best teams and the worst teams. It’s the one where the regular season matters most. It’s the one sport that has the best season of the year all to itself. They’re not called the Boys of Summer for nothing.

Baseball lends itself to the best sports writing and the best sports movies. It has the richest history and the most romantic mythology. It’s the only sport that allows the fans the pleasure of seeing the umpires publicly berated. It has the most prestigious hall of fame. It has the most grueling minor leagues, where you can chase your dreams for ten years after school if you are willing to ride the bus. It has the best stadiums, where the dimensions are always different and the speed of the grass and the size of the foul territory determines the type of team you build.

More than any other sport, baseball is a companion. That’s why fans grow to love their announcers. For the past few years, I’ve listened to the majority of Sox games over the summer.  I don’t often listen or watch an entire game, and I certainly can’t catch all 162 of them. But if I’m driving or mowing the lawn , paying the bills, or puttzing around the house, I’ll find a way to tune in. And if they lose, it’s no big deal. It’s not like the college football playoff is on the line every game. The Sox can lose five in a row or stink up the place for two months and still end up on top. It’s a long season. It’s a slow season. It’s a game of strategy and finely-honed skill more than brute force and raw athleticism. It’s everything fans aren’t supposed to want in their sports anymore.

Which makes it just perfect.


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11 thoughts on “Our National Pastime”

  1. Andrew says:

    Lovely piece. Strikes me, as a Brit, that you have just the right mentality to appreciate Cricket. ;-)

  2. Mike McGeath says:

    Bravo Kevin! Football was my meal-ticket in college, but baseball was always my first love. Since my first game when I was 7, at Wrigley with my family and my Dad taught me to keep score (still have that scorecard 50 years later!), I’ve been hooked and a life-long “Die-hard”. Growing up in South Bend, we were always Chicago fans. The Cubs were our team, but we also enjoyed the occasional game at “Old Comiskey” and they were my “American League team”, but the Cubs are who I lived and died with (mostly died!). As a kid I would cut out the winning box scores and pin them to my bulletin board and keep track of my heroes – Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Ron Santo, Fergie Jenkins, Randy Hundley, and on and on. You’re like my uncle (I think he was my favorite because of his love of baseball), the rebel! My Grandpa leaned toward the Sox and my uncle picked up their banner and held it high! Everybody else in the family- Cub fans.

    I feel you! Coming up to WMU as an 18 year old and being surrounded by Detroit fans, my general ambivalence grew to a “healthy hate” for the Tigers, Lions, Pistons and yes the Wolverines and Spartans! (sorry, I’m of course, an Irish fan also!) Especially in 1984! We should have been in the WS v the Tigers. We get there, we win. I’m convinced of that!

    I agree- for all the reasons you stated and many more, baseball is the perfect game and there is no better day than a 75 degree, sunny afternoon (no, not night) at Wrigley… with a scorecard in my hand! Probably a chocolate malt cup (w/ wood spoon) in about the 3rd inning.

    I’ve always enjoyed your blogs and know we have that great connection as brothers-in-Christ, but now I know why I’ve always felt there was a little more to why I connected with you! : )

    Play Ball!

    Mike McGeath
    SW Michigan FCA
    269-998-3760

  3. Bravo, Kevin! Back in the day (1976!) I wrote the historic marker for Tiger Stadium (now the old Tiger Stadium) and attended the game when the marker was dedicated. I had never been to Tiger Stadium–you climb upwards on dark ramps and then, lo and behold, you get to the top and emerge and there is the shining green grass of the stadium, the seats all around, and the blue sky. I gasped. I felt it was like getting to Heaven must be like. Yes, of course, Heaven will be better, but ever so often we get glimpses. Both our kids love baseball and we took them often to games. Rather movingly, the final May when the old Tiger Stadium was open, they took me there for Mother’s Day.

  4. David Hasty says:

    Thanks Kevin. This was a good article. For me ths game is intense. Like chess for athletes. The Sox made great moves this winter. Im from St Louis i would root for Sox though. Hey who knows maybe well see the Sox vs Cubs world series.

  5. Curt Day says:

    Kevin,
    Thank you for this article. It causes me to remember my trips to Connie Mack Stadium in Philly. It was there that I saw Richie Allen hit the ball over 500 feet out of the stadium over the bleachers, its roof, and the advertising signs on top of the roof.

  6. James Curtis says:

    I grew up as a Sox fan in the late 50s, rooting for the in the ’57, ’58 & their pennant winning season in ’59, but after moving to Southeastern Michigan in ’75 I became a Cubbie fan — go Cubs!

  7. Mark Ray says:

    Couldn’t agree more. All that and more. The diamond makes it (and cricket) unique. Combines a ball game with a chess game. Absolutely the best to listen to as well. The mind’s eye can create the action and you can guess the next pitch, etc. on the radio as well as in person.

  8. Martin says:

    Greatest moment in baseball for me was the 1960 World Series (Yankees vs Pirates). Because I was sick that day and had to stay home from school, I was able to watch the seventh game (all games were played during the day). The Pirates were behind by one run when Bill Mazerowski came to the plate. With Roberto Clemente on base he hit it over the wall for a walk-off series winning homer! Sent the perennial champion Yankees back home. Sweet!

    However, now I find nothing better than the Stanley Cup series.

  9. Penny says:

    Amen.

  10. Matt says:

    Great article Kevin! Being a dad of two boys who enjoy a number of sports I was just thinking yesterday of how much I enjoy baseball season more than the other seasons. As I thought about why this is the case the conclusion I came to was that baseball is the sports where a dad and his sons can fellowship most while practicing. You cannot play catch by yourself, or do soft toss to yourself, or practice a curve without a catcher! Each spring leads to a lot of swings and pitches but also to a lot of talk about manhood, how to react to failure after a strike out, and how to handle a home run with humility. It’s a great game, and I enjoy it even more now that my two boys are participants!

  11. Mike Cobb says:

    Its the only game were the defense starts out with the ball. God bless you and the fam

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (PCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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