Batter up!

Mark Twain kept this scorecard at a baseball game in Hartford, CT, circa 1874.

The 2018 baseball season opens today. I’ll be rooting for my hometown Phils, but don’t hold that against me.

It’s likely that Mark Twain would be rooting for his own hometown Hartford Dark Blues, says the Major League Baseball website. At a dinner in 1889, Twain called the game “the outward and visible expression of the drive, and push, and rush and struggle of the raging, tearing, booming 19th century.” Legend also has it that he may have umpired a semi-pro game at his summer home in Elmira, NY. He boasted about his deep knowledge of the pastime: “Oh, I knew all about it. I knew it was a ball the moment I saw it, and I said so.”

Play ball! And while you’re waiting for the rain delay to end, read more about Mark Twain and America’s greatest game — as well as an associated corpse — here.

The national pastime

The wintry mess that infested New York’s skies, streets, and sidewalks yesterday would indicate that we’re still far from springtime, which is supposed to begin on March 20. I’ll believe it when I see it. But a surer indication of spring’s debut is the start of baseball season, which this year falls on March 29.

Yesterday I mentioned Susan Jacoby’s The Age of American Unreason in a Culture of Lies, and you should still look that one up. But her next book will be Why Baseball Matters, which Yale University Press will pour into bookstores on March 20. “Baseball’s greatest charm — a clockless suspension of time — is also its greatest liability in a culture of digital distraction,” runs the publisher’s blurb for the book. “Jacoby argues forcefully that the major challenge to baseball today is a shortened attention span at odds with a long game in which great hitters fail two out of three times. Without sanitizing this basic problem, Why Baseball Matters reminds us that the game has retained its grip on our hearts precisely because it has repeatedly demonstrated the ability to reinvent itself in times of immense social change.”

You can pre-order the book from Amazon here, but I want to conclude with the book’s epigraph, a particularly apt meditation from novelist Philip Roth, which appeared in the April 2, 1973, issue of the New York Times under the title “My Baseball Years”:

It seems to me that through baseball I was put in touch with a more humane and tender brand of patriotism, lyrical rather than martial or righteous in spirit, and without the reek of saintly zeal, a patriotism that could not so easily be sloganized, or contained in a high-sounding formula to which you had to pledge something vague but all-encompassing called your “allegiance.”