It was in 1972 when the book by Roger Kahn, The Boys of Summer, went to print. Best I can tell, this is where the endearing nickname for baseball players originated. Sports fans have affectionately referred to baseball as “America’s Favorite Pastime” for decades. For the life of me, I couldn’t trace exactly when or how this lofty title was originally bestowed – but is it still fair to say this about the game?
Numbers don’t lie. The competition for television sports viewers is won hands-down by NFL Football. Grant Eckert, from ClassBrain.com reports: “The NFL brings in about 2.2 billion dollars a year in revenues from television. The MLB earns about 340 million.”
But I seem to encounter so many die-hard baseball fans – and specifically lady fans – who love the game. I pondered, “What is it people love so much about baseball?” I know one thing the ladies love, but there’s gotta be more to it than hunky mancandy, right?
My sister-in-law Melissa, who is an avid Red Sox fan, is a good example. “Last Monday, I went to my first game of the season and the feeling of walking into Fenway and sitting in the greatest ballpark in the world never gets old. Love it!” She said “There is nothing like a nice summer night at Fenway Park.”
So, I decided to interview two of my favorite gal pals who have been singing the praises of the game for years- my mother and my grandmother. Both are life-long fans. My mom’s favorite Mother’s Day gift from me: tickets to a Colorado Rockie’s home game.
She said, “Baseball is one of few sports that can rightly use the phrase ‘in the modern era’ and mean in the past 100 years!”
She talked about the smells of the game – the fresh cut grass, hot dogs, clean air and sun tan oil. She talked about the sounds of the game – the crack of the bat, the satisfying thump of the ball against the leather glove, the roar of the crowd and even the hokey organ music.
To sum up, she said, “It’s just so American, so real and so uniquely baseball.”
Hearing my mom’s thoughts made me remember the movie Field of Dreams from 1989. Especially the scene when Terence Mann (James Earl Jones) gives his incredibly inspiring “pep talk”. My mom could’ve written that.
I asked her, “What do you love most about the game, Mom?” Her answer brought tears to my eyes.
“Because opening day sends me back to my 6-year-old self, scrambling over wooden bleachers on a warm summer night, with a bag of salted peanuts – and yes, Cracker Jax – in one hand and a sweating, cold bottle of Coke in the other, eyes wide and senses tingling for the first pitch. That annual trip back in time feels like a visit from an old and trusted friend. And reminds why I still love the game.”
It all made sense to me then – her passion for the game, people’s passion for the game. Baseball is romantic. It is tradition. It is nostalgia. It belongs in the history of Americana in a way that nothing else probably ever will.
Speaking of romance, Hollywood has certainly done its part in fanning the flames of passion for this game over the years. This is a great list of “best ever” baseball flicks if you’re ready to fall in love.
So, back to tradition; my 85-year-old grandmother – most often known as “Nanny” – has her own opinions and passions for the game. When I called to ask her about her love of the game, she was pretty surprised at the question. After some consideration, though, she was pretty candid.
She said, “There’s something refreshing to an 85-year-old woman to watch those young, energetic men going all out to win. I love their enthusiasm.”
Nanny speculated that part of what people look forward to about baseball is the beautiful season it kicks-off, the soft summer breezes, a reprieve from the winter, new growth and new life.“People want to get out and stretch, and play, and have competitive fun,” she mused.
And make no mistake, Nanny still appreciates the men who play this game from a woman’s eye, too. “They are so manly,” she said. “I like the way it brings out their testosterone. If you’re a woman, how could you not like that?”
Bottom line, she says, “It depends on your taste, Honey, but if they can hit the ball, they’ve got me!”
Out of this little project, I have inherited a deeper appreciation for this game and a deeper love for two very important women in my life. Seems like that could be a pretty great movie right there!
I’m going to get to the ballpark just as soon as I can, order a hot dog, get me some Cracker Jax, and make my mom proud yelling at the top of my voice, “Hey batter, batter, batter… SWING!”
Images from MLB.com, and Mom’s Phone Camera