by L. Neil Smith
Special to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise
Icame to spectator sports late in life. Until a couple years ago, I assidously avoided having anything to do with it. I had reasons for this which seemed sufficient at the time. One was that everyone I knew who liked sports was boring and stupid, especially when I was in high school. Another was coaches, the guys who taught algebra and geometry on the side? They were boring and stupid with oak leaf clusters. And then there were the guys on TV who couldn’t talk about sports without yelling.
A large part of it was that I was never any good at conventional sports. I couldn’t run 20 yards without getting a stitch in my side. I was afraid of the water for the first half of my childhood (although that changed eventually and I wound up spending almost every day of my high school summers under the surface of Santa Rosa Sound). I couldn’t catch or hit a baseball and I was always the last one chosen. I took a shot at basketball, but since I was the littlest kid in the class, all I wound up with was a floor-burn. And my reaction to football was the same as Robert A. Heinlein’s: it looked like a perfect way to get killed.
Maybe the first crack in my armor came when I found my sport. I can hit a coffee can at 100 yards — the length of a football field — with almost any pistol or revolver I own. As I trained and developed as a handgun metallic silhouette shooter, I began to appreciate the discipline and stamina demanded by other sports. Try hiking 300 feet, setting five steel rams in place, hiking all the way back, and waiting for your hands to stop shaking so you can shoot, and you’ll see what I mean.
Then came the fatal blow. I’d already been brainwashed by a Kevin Costner baseball movie, and I’m not talking about Field of Dreams, which I found … well … boring and stupid. I’m talking about Bull Durham which starts out with the words (in Susan Sarandon’s sexiest Southern drawl), “I believe in the Church of Baseball”. The movie makes a lot of arguments in favor of the sport that an intellectual might find intriguing, and at one point, Costner informs his minor league teammates wistfully — after telling them that they practice with new white balls “in the show”, never carry their own luggage, and “the women all have long legs and brains” — that the parks are like cathedrals.
My fate was probably sealed by the ugly 1997 flood here in Fort Collins. Mucking out the house was a daily, heartbreaking hell that lasted for weeks, and a baseball game on the radio and a cold beer on the mantlepiece (I’d never liked beer before that summer, either, when I discovered microbrews) were just the thing to lift the burden a little.
The fatal blow was tickets — some kind of alumni thing — to a Colorado Rockies game that we were offered through the department at Colorado State University where my wife works. One look at Coors Field and I was done for. It was a cathedral. It was better than a cathedral because the whole brick structure and its supporting steel frame were open to the air in a way that Howard Roark would have appreciated, form following function to create a gigantic beautiful sculpture.
I discovered that baseball at the park is very different from baseball on TV. On TV, what you’ve got is … well, baseball. At the park, you’ve got a titanic social event (Rockies games are usually sold out, so we’re talking 45,000 people here) of which the game is the central — but far from the only, or even the most important — feature.
I also learned that a double play can be vastly more lovely than any ballet I’ve ever avoided watching, a home run is too wonderful for words, and that it’s a pleasure just to watch Larry Walker (he’s my favorite Rocky) run. I was shocked to find I could tell him — and several other Rockies — from far away, just from their batting stances.
The most amazing thing about a game at the park is how quiet it can be. On TV or the radio, it’s very noisy, full of chatter and banter, commentary and “color”. At the ballpark, it’s like watching golf. From time to time there’s cheering and the attempt to form a “wave” and keep it going, but when there’s two away and the count is three and two, the spectators are as silent and concentrated as the batter.
Baseball is a philosophical game, 90 percent of which (like any other game) is mental. Like Walt Whitman said, it’s our game, the quintessentially American game — which brings me to the point of this essay.
It is an obscenity that an object as remarkably gorgeous as Coors Field — as uniquely American as the game that’s played within it — was created with money stolen at bayonet point from unwilling “contributors”. It’s like Hitler painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, or Dr. Joseph Mengele conducting the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.
The American game should be played by the same rules that America was built on, Darwinistic rules where the fit survive and prosper while the unfit … regroup to try again. It’s a basic American right to strive for success. It’s an even more basic American right to fail. Corporate America — Chrysler comes to mind in this connection and so does Ross Perot — is being deprived of its all-important right to fail.
What we have today, instead of the American pasttime, is welfare for billionaires. If cities, counties, and states will build it — flogging taxpayers just like in the good old days of the original pyramid scheme — they will come. If not, to switch metaphors in the middle of the paragraph, there’s always another, more Transylvanian jurisdiction eager to extract the vital essence — money — from its peasants.
I say this stains the sport and besmirches it as badly as the Black Sox scandal ever did. I say it’s time to put an end to sports socialism. I say it’s time for a complete separation of sports and state.
I repeat for the boring and stupid (especially Mike Rosen on Denver’s KOA radio): it’s time for a complete separation of sports and state. Maybe what we need is a Constitutional amendment to that effect, maybe all we need to do is enforce Amendments Number Nine and Ten. Either way, it’s time for a complete separation of sports and state.
Let the billionaires build their own stadiums and arenas — if they can. Afterward, they may not be able to pay the players’ salaries so many fans find repulsive, but that may be a good thing. Baseball will be healthier for it, and likely so will football, basketball, and hockey.
Baseball is a metaphor for many aspects of American life, let it be an exemplar of free enterprise and laissez faire capitalism, as well.
Reprinted from The Libertarian Enterprise for July 31, 1999
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