Friday, April 9, 2010

Opening Day: What it reveals about us

“It has long been my conviction that we can learn far more about the conditions, and values, of a society by contemplating how it chooses to play, to use its free time, to take its leisure, than by examining how it goes about its work.” –A. Bartlett Giamatti
Fans are advised to arrive to Washington Nationals Park by 10:00 a.m. Upon hearing this, I knew a two hour window before game time indicated one thing: the President must be throwing the ceremonial first pitch. I love this 100 year old tradition, even if Obama wore bad jeans last year, or can’t throw strikes. I’m not convinced that baseball remains America’s official past time, but I do think the fact that every President since William Howard Taft has made a point to get out to the yard for its inaugural game, speaks to the claims of the former commissioner of baseball, A. Barlett Giamatti. In his essay Take Time for Paradise: Americans and Their Games, I am struck by what the late Giamatti, also a philosopher adds:
“If there is a truly religious quality to sport, then, it lies first in the intensity of devotion brought by the true believer, or fan. And it consists second, and much more so, in the widely shared, binding nature—the creed-like quality—of American sport.”
Even in an increasingly secular place like San Francisco, the Giants hold a faithful following. So much so, that the home opener is played during the day. Ah! The sweet day game; what leisure. It is time away from work and even better—from school. For 42 years, Brother Draper, the iconic Dean of Students at SI posted a typed document daily, verified by his initials “dd, sj” (for Doug Draper, SJ) in the faculty room. It might strike some as odd or dated considering the multitude of other technological resources, but said list was helpful. If a student had a serious illness, Brother might include necessary information beside his name. If a student was with her traveling team in Chile for a soccer tournament, faculty was aware of the unexcused absence. And on one day of the year, I think it is fair to say at least 5% of the student body’s names appeared in that courier type: opening day. Brother Draper printed this list without guile. The following students are at Candlestick (or in recent years Pac Bell/AT&T) Park. It’s a shame no student had the acumen to call upon Giamatti’s words to earn an “excused” versus “unexcused absence.”

Standing in front of Nationals Park on Sunday night—the day prior to opening day for Major League Baseball and AT&T Park tonight—the day before the Giants' home opener, I couldn’t help but reflect upon the sport of baseball and what it reveals about America/Americans as one might do about a religious community while standing outside a church. Undoubtedly, AT&T is a cathedral; its field is hallowed ground. On the other coast, Nationals Park is bringing rebirth to a blighted area of our nation's capital; its locker room dubbed "the oval office" holds conversations about winning and losing, faith and hope. The red, white and blue bunting that adorns the interior and exterior of both venues indicates a feast day is upon us. There is something sacred about opening day and lucky for SI students, they won't have to miss class thanks to spring break this week. I just hope after President Obama threw that ceremonial first pitch, he yelled “Play Ball!” God Bless America.

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