I went to my first ever baseball game on Friday night. I didn’t think I’d enjoy it. It seems too similar to cricket, a game so long and boring that it feels like training for life in a nursing home.
But I was pleasantly surprised. Baseball’s a fast moving battle of nerves. When it comes down to three “balls” and two “strikes,” the guy at the bat has the world on his shoulders. If he takes another strike, his head hangs low. If he knocks it out of the park, he stands among the gods. The rules are simple and any confusion is cleared up by more beer. After two hours, I graduated from total novice to seasoned pro – shouting, “You could see the ball better if you got a haircut, hippie!” and “Hit it, don’t swat it, Zimmerman!” [That Zimmerman really bugged me. His whole technique seemed to rely on the pitcher not being able to throw. Is the man allergic to running?]
...Another, more stark, reminder of that truth is the role that military pageantry plays at a baseball game. At the start of the contest, the CIA honour guard trooped the colours and we were all invited to stand and applaud the folks serving in the US military. But nothing prepared me for the moving rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner, as sung by a female soldier in combat fatigues. The stadium stood proudly – hats clasped to chests – as she powerfully, beautifully sang the national anthem. “Does that Star-Spangled Banner yet wave/ O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?” It sure does.
In contrast, American patriotism is sharper and more certain – and more fixedly about ideas. Its promise is individual freedom. But that freedom is guaranteed – just like victory in a baseball game – by thinking and acting as a team or a nation. One of the reasons why civil society works in the US slightly better than it does in Britain is that they understand the balance of rights and responsibilities between the individual and the group. Without the security of a welfare state, Americans are acculturated to risk and sacrifice, and so (ironically) they can be a little more charitable than us. They are certainly more free.
After the game we moved to a bar and got chatting with some young marines, who were talking excitedly about the fact that they are going to present the flag at one of the ballgames next week. After that, they will fly off to war. We are lucky to share the world with a nation that produces men like these.
Posted: April 18, 2012 at 02:23 PM | 773 comment(s)
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