The game was excellent; good pitching by both Cueto and Dickey kept the score close. The Jays ended up losing, but my kids were thrilled to see Aroldis Chapman (another former Louisville Bat), throw 102 mph heat to close out the game for the Reds. I also taught my boys how to keep score, which they did for the entire game; both of them proudly displayed their scorecards to their mom on our return home.
Unfortunately, the experience also included displays of baseball's frustratingly increasing militarization. We arrived early to the game to watch batting practice, but there was none. Instead, the area around home plate was cordoned off so that the United States Air Force could hold a public swearing-in ceremony for new cadets immediately prior to the game, and the crowd was expected to participate in the ceremony by standing during the oath; I made it clear to my boys that we would continue to sit until the ceremony was over. The Reds then came onto the field wearing camouflage jerseys (see the picture above), and throughout the game the crowd was continually exhorted to welcome as heroes each and every enlisted person in attendance. The crowd dutifully and enthusiastically replied, usually with a standing ovation.
I bought tickets for my sons and I to see a Major League Baseball game. We ended up being fed unnecessary and unwelcome propaganda.
I realize, of course, that baseball is, and long has been, inextricably tied to American patriotism. It is, after all, a distinctly American game. I get that. But, on a basic level, there's something very disturbing about celebrating war at a baseball game. Baseball, unlike most other sports, has what Bart Giamatti called "deep patterns" that allow those who watch the game to enter into a kind of contemplative gaze where truth, goodness and beauty shine through the rhythm and repetition played out before them. Giamatti describes baseball as follows:
Repetition within immutable lines and rules; baseball is counterpoint: stability vying with volatility, tradition with the quest for a new edge, ancient rhythms and ever-new blood - an oft-told tale, repeated in every game in every season, season after season (A Great and Glorious Game: Baseball Writings of A. Bartlett Giamatti, 104).Unlike football or hockey, violence just isn't built into baseball. Sure, players slide hard into second to disrupt a double-play, but the goal is to disrupt rhythm not to display physical power. It is jarring, therefore, to see baseball played by those wearing the colours of warfare. It brings the imagery of that which is chaotic and destructive into a game that is characterized by order and beauty. I also wonder what those who have actually worn fatigues into fields of battle think about millionaires playing a game wearing camouflage in paradise and so playing war, so to speak.
My frustration at the militarization of baseball goes beyond simply being philosophically opposed to mixing up a peaceful and orderly game with the chaos of war. I am also a Christian pacifist deeply suspicious of the glorification of the military in American society. As a parent, I seek to teach my kids what I believe is central to the Christian message: that if we take seriously the Incarnation, we have to take seriously the idea that God chose and continues to choose generous, self-giving love over power and force; that we, as Christ's followers, are called to this same generous love and to become communities that manifest this generous love; that freedom, true freedom, is to be found in this generous love and not in or through force. This message grates hard against the predominant American political narratives. People often find my viewpoint offensive, though I do what I can to affirm what I can in those who disagree with me.
However, is it too much to ask that I be able to go to a baseball game - a baseball game - simply to enjoy it with my kids? Is it too much to ask that I be able simply to pass on to my kids the tradition of how to keep score without also having to explain to them why it is inappropriate that their favourite baseball players are wearing camouflage?
Baseball's deep patterns and ancient rhythms have something to teach all of us about freedom and peace. We need to stop sullying the game's truth, goodness, and beauty by 'playing war'.