“People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for.”
— Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird)
The phrase “national pastime” first appeared in print in an 1856 edition of the New York Mercury. (source: Past Time: Baseball as History by Jules Tygiel)
“Hurry up and get this over with” might be something you will hear from a non-baseball fan watching our national pastime. So, let’s hurry up and take a look at what “pastime” even means. Synonyms for pastime include: activity, pursuit, amusement, hobby, leisure, distraction, diversion, and entertainment. Today, many will claim that baseball is no longer our national pastime and that it is slow and boring. However, baseball isn’t a sport to be engaged as you do others. From the point of view of the spectator, it is ideally suited to facilitate conversation. It doesn’t demand constant attention. There are breaks, not just between innings, but between every action. Perhaps modern society’s desire for instant gratification fuels the anti-baseball mentality.
There’s a chess-like quality to baseball. Each pitch has a purpose. Fielders position themselves to maximize their opportunity to record an out, which is usually a product of analytics. While baseball is full of precise research based planning, there is also a free flowing unpredictability to it. If football and basketball are rock n roll, baseball is classical music. It takes time, is filled with nuance, and doesn’t need to consume every moment with a sound. You can sit back and relax while you enjoy it and discuss the news of the day and the mysteries of life because the nature of the sport allows it.
Baseball is symmetrical and asymmetrical at the same time. On every field, a pitcher stares down his opponent from 60 ½ feet away while the field behind him morphs into a variety of shapes and dimensions, depending on where he’s playing. The inclusion of city skylines, famous walls, jagged corners, and varied foul territory are part of the artistic quality that other sports don’t enjoy. The setting is vital. The next time you hear that baseball games are long and slow, ask, “what is the hurry?” Sit back, relax, and enjoy the pastime.