If I have to Endure another self-important George Will- Bill James- Ken Burns spew on the lofty significance of this national pastime that is past its time, I'm going to hurl. I know, I know—only by studying the game's nuances can the most striking connections between baseball and life be found. So let's try some: incessant spitting and scratching? A metaphor for zoo life, perhaps. Kicking dirt on an umpire to protest a close call? Kids, make sure you're taking notes. Obsessed with numbers and individual accomplishments? If it worked that way in the real world, no one would haul away the trash. Besides, if there is a higher truth to be found in numerical precision, why was our last presidential election settled by the U.S. Supreme Court, which effectively shut down the ongoing tabulation of votes? (And Al Gore didn't even get to kick dirt on Antonin Scalia.) The people who try to sell baseball as life need to get one.
Back in the day, people had time to appreciate baseball's leisurely woven fabric, but there's not much subtlety in today's world. Let your life unfold in this era of broadband, and you will get crushed like Ryan Leaf beneath the Baltimore Ravens' pass rush. So try this on as a metaphor for 21st-century life: Amid confusion and noise you pound the will out of the guy in front of you so that your "team" (i.e., company) can advance. Then you go back to your "huddle" (conference room) and spend more time talking about your next move than you will making it. The scrappers in the trenches do the grunt work, but the sleek showboats take most of the credit. Everybody dresses alike and gets 86'd the second the boss finds a younger, fresher body. There is constant fear and a never-ending tension between pleasure and pain. While most of the discomfort can be eased by readily available medication, ultimately there is disconnect and disorientation. At some point every player woozily returns to the sideline believing he's in Des Moines at 5:10 p.m. with 12 blocks to go on his paper route. Only in those timeless moments will an athlete understand football's metaphorical mysticism—what George Will and his baseball-loving buddies might describe as one's unconscious desire to return to a pastoral past.