Goldsmith: Baseball embodies America

I consider myself to be, above all else, a sports fan in the most general sense. Give me a rainy Tuesday afternoon and several bags of Sun Chips and I’ll even get into the WNBA. OK, well, maybe it doesn’t go quite that far, but I represent a broad class of non-discriminating sports-fans, the type who will watch whatever is on ESPN, except of course for poker. (But even then, the allure of sitting underwear-clad amid a sea of “Garden Salsa” crumbs can make even Lon McEachern and Norman Chad’s mind-numbing excuse for sports commentary tolerable.) From the most esoteric — early stages of the Giro d’Italia (cycling) or the Big East Diving Championships — to the Superbowl and the NBA Finals, I can proudly say that I love watching all sports.

Nothing however, can compare to America’s pastime. With Monday’s official opening of Target Field in Minneapolis, home of the Minnesota Twins, we are reminded of the many reasons why baseball is objectively the best, and will maintain its cultural grip on our great nation forever.

A brief scouring of Wikipedia for some of the history of the game highlights its intrinsic transcendence — baseball came informally to the U.S. during immigration in the 18th century, developing and spreading informally up until the foundation of the National Association of Base Ball Players in 1860. Despite the political and cultural schisms of the Civil War and Reconstruction era, teams spread across the nation from San Francisco to Louisiana to New York City.

Today, baseball still proves its ability to transcend the socio-political paradigm.

The New York Yankees organization built a $1.5 billion stadium that opened in 2009 amid a recession. Even more glaringly ironic, the Mets started the 2009 season in the $900 million Citi Field, named after Citigroup, one of the team’s primary investors. Was New York mocking us? The toxic leverage that led to the banking crisis had been initiated in New York City, the financial capital of the nation, and now here stood an unprecedented monument to the then-struggling Yankees, as well as a baseball field named after a bank which accepted $45 billion of government bailout funding.

As an American, and a baseball fan, I felt betrayed.

Then, the Yankees won the 2009 World Series. Credit had stabilized, and we had been officially deemed out of recession. New York was back.

This of course ignores the lingering effects of the recession that still plagued middle America, as jobless rates remained elevated. The financial well-being of certain sports franchises similarly remained in doubt — the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars for example are a particularly struggling franchise, and their future is still uncertain. So while some teams built and spent, others cut costs. It’s almost as if the inequities of our modern society were reflected in the sports world.

But then, Target Field opened Monday. The Minnesota Twins are not a perennial World Series hopeful, but at the same time, they have had relative success in their division over the last decade. Furthermore, their man behind the plate, catcher Joe Mauer took home the American League’s MVP award for the regular season. Now, equipped with a brand new, outdoor facility, the franchise’s optimistic future can no longer be ignored.

Nor should it. Target Field serves as a testament to our nation’s faith in middle America. The opening of such a facility insists upon the resiliency of non-major markets like Minnesota, but more profoundly this temple for baseball proves that greatness is not restricted to those with Steinbrenner-esque balance sheets. While Target field may seat 15,000 less than Yankee Stadium, and fans will likely have to brave snow more than once to make it to games in early April, the stadium is an affirmation that baseball is not exclusive.

Despite the devastation that performance-enhancing drugs have wrought on the legacy of modern baseball, it is still America’s pastime. It’s an excuse to sit in a chair and watch a slow but dramatic contest unfold over beer and hotdogs on a sunny summer afternoon. It’s a forum for individual and team glory to inspire us to achieve, and to uplift us in times of national and communal grief, such as the Yankee’s American League title and World Series performance in 2001, following the 9/11 terrorist attacks).

Most of all, baseball is an excuse to be excited again. If I were lucky enough to be at home in Harrisburg, Penn., right now, I would have the chance to see the game’s number one pitching prospect, Steven Strasbourg, pitch for the local minor league team the Harrisburg Senators in a newly expanded and renovated Metro Bank Park. While these little changes from season to season can be minor, nothing excites me more after the dreariness of winter.

Baseball is an embodiment of our national spirit, and it is with tremendous optimism that I look forward at the start of the 2010 season.

Sam Goldsmith is a junior in Branford College.

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