"The meaning of baseball, eh?" Vin Scully says. He looks at his watch—he does not have much time, the game will begin soon—and he sits down at a table in the corner of the Dodgers' lunchroom. Scully turns 84 in November. He still spends the bulk of his summer doing the only thing he has wanted to do since he crawled under the family radio as a boy and listened to the sound of the crowd cheering. He calls Dodgers baseball games, of course, like he has since before he and the team moved from Brooklyn to L.A. in 1958.
"Dreams and escape," Scully says after a short pause. The words sound triumphant. All words sound triumphant when Vin Scully says them. This is the man, after all, who followed Kirk Gibson's famous World Series home run with the words: "In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened." He is the voice of baseball.
"Children dream about this game," Scully continues. "And when we grow older, the game provides our escape from the troubles of day-to-day life."
Scully smiles, stands, excuses himself. He must get to the booth. I ask him if he still believes in these things now, in 2011, with Dodgers owner Frank McCourt threatening lawsuits and struggling every month just to make payroll, with the franchise now needing bobbleheads and celebrity tributes to draw its once loyal fans (the team has led the National League in attendance 28 times in its half century in Southern California), with jury selection going on in the Roger Clemens perjury case, with the constant drumbeat of stories and opinions about how baseball matters less and less to America. Vin nods and puts his hand on my shoulder.
"Dreams and escape," he says again, "now more than ever."
Here's another thing baseball has outlasted: vinyl. The Tower Records in Manhattan's East Village used to be a musical landmark. The record store closed in 2006, and now the building is where Mike O'Hara and Ryan Wagner are watching all 2,430 regular-season baseball games this season. Major League Baseball calls it the Fan Cave, and it is pimped out with a pool table, Foosball and various pieces of art, including a portrait of Jay-Z in a Yankees cap made entirely with gum balls.
To watch almost 2,500 baseball games, Mike and Ryan—they submitted videos of themselves explaining why they should be chosen as the winners of the Fan Cave contest—must stare daily at a wall of 15 television sets. There is almost never a full slate of 15 games going at once. Now, for instance, there are only eight going on. But all 15 televisions still play. It is as if their minds can no longer acclimate to a blank screen.
"We tried for a while to have the sound on," Mike is saying, "but it was no good. It was too much." He stands to the left of the televisions—near a couple of computers and an 18-foot sculpture of Willie Mays making his 1954 over-the-shoulder World Series catch—and he rests a baseball bat on his right shoulder. His eyes jump from screen to screen. When he lets out a groan or a cheer, it takes a few seconds for me to figure out which game he is watching.
To experience baseball like this—hey, Andrew McCutchen just homered in Pittsburgh, and, wait, look, Minnesota's coming back in Chicago, and, oh, Lance Berkman just hit another home run in St. Louis, and, yep, Roy Halladay's mowing down Braves in Philadelphia, and, oh, they're asking a trivia question in Cleveland, and, hey, did David Ortiz just throw a punch in Boston?—is to turn the game's amps up to 11, to make a leisurely game into something as frantic and modern and overstimulating as the rest of 21st-century American culture.
"Do you like watching baseball like this?" I ask Mike. Two double plays occur at the same moment while a man on East 4th Street bangs on the Fan Cave window until he gets someone inside to give him a thumbs up.