Baseball remains the great equalizer
The joyous sound of 40,000 people singing the national anthem knows no equal in American culture.
It happened in Pittsburgh last Tuesday when adoring Pirates fans welcomed home their heroes and exploded with tearful joy, gratitude, loyalty and pride.
They stood there without any prompting from social media or from a panel of rabid cable news pundits because it meant something. It was spontaneous and heartfelt. It was about being at the ballpark to watch a team that, for 162 consecutive games this season, showed up and got the job done.
It was the perfect example of how America's pastime and American society often reflect each other.
“Baseball captures everything good about American exceptionalism — the work ethic, standing tall when you accomplish something and hanging in there when things fall apart,” said George Coury of Homer City.
A baseball game, he said, is rich with natural resources, the industrial capacity of each player's strengths and weaknesses and the absence of rigid class distinctions. “Just look around here. Everyone who is in this ballpark comes from a great cross-section of our society — rich, poor, working class, young and old,” he added.
The retired public accountant, 78, said his love affair with baseball began with his first game at Forbes Field in 1947. It was the day Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier as a Brooklyn Dodger against the Pirates.
Since that day, Coury said he has attended nearly 4,000 games in 54 years, missing only 19 for weddings, funerals and a broken leg.
No better team could have served up what America is all about than Pittsburgh, said Larry Ceisler, a media consultant from Philadelphia who made the trek back to his hometown to watch the underdog Pirates attempt an improbable win.
“Look, it is an underlying story of America's willfulness to succeed,” he explained. “A small-market team overcoming 20 years of hard luck and despair to not only finally end a two-decade continuous streak of playing below .500 but to make the postseason for the first time since 1992.”
Indeed, it was a perfect metaphor for the story of America that has played out through generations in every conflict and setback we have encountered as a country — and nothing was more symbolic of those moments of Americans staring down adversity and coming together than when Pittsburgh fans sang the national anthem.
During the game, “we forgot about partisanship, whether someone beside us was a Democrat or a Republican, whether they like ObamaCare or want to see it dumped,” Ceisler said. “It peeled back the truth of who we really are, without the burden of being divided by Washington, D.C.'s antics.”
To drive home the point, Ceisler, a media strategist for Democrats, said he attended a small pre-game party hosted by a Republican strategist, against whom he has faced off on many occasions.
“I think, by and large, this is who we really are, and baseball does a good job of reminding us of that,” he said.
“Whether the Pirates won or lost that day, the thing about baseball that reflects the American spirit is that fans of the game believe there is always next year,” said David Peitrusza, a baseball historian. “It was the famous rallying call of the Brooklyn Dodgers in the '40s and '50s,” that wait-until-next-year, never-give-up attitude.
“Wait-until-next-year brings you into spring training, where hopes spring eternal,” he said of baseball's rebirth and rebuilding cycle — much like how Americans always find a way to dig themselves out of trouble, even if it takes several attempts.
Baseball is a game that both the average person and the affluent can attend, that anyone can play whether you live in an inner-city slum, a suburb or the hinterlands. It has its rules but it is not uncommon to see fewer than the standard nine players on the field for a pickup game as you drive through the concrete enclaves of New York City or the cornfields of Iowa.
Today, Pittsburgh moves on against St. Louis with the hope that maybe this year is the one when the Pirates will go all the way.
If not, there is always next year.
Salena Zito covers politics for Trib Total Media (412-320-7879 or firstname.lastname@example.org).