For the last two years, I have donned orange and black and headed to the ballpark to see the San Francisco Giants on Opening Day. Thousands of others skipped work and school to sit in the sunshine and root for the home team. Before the mayor tossed out the first pitch, all eyes were on the field as the Coast Guard unfurled an enormous representation of the stars and stripes in straightaway center. Men and women in uniform lined up along the fences. Four Navy jets buzzed low over the stadium.
With the nation still at war, the pre-game fireworks display and the jets screaming overhead reminded me of what I came to the ballpark to forget for a little while. We have all seen the rockets’ red glare, along with bombs bursting in air, for much too long. But how could I allow myself to forget , even for a few hours, that soldiers were fighting and dying far away–young men also wearing uniforms that look nothing like the ones on the players I came to watch on a sunny April afternoon.
Ask anyone: baseball is still the national pastime. So going to the ballgame is a patriotic thing to do. After 9/11, “God Bless America” nudged “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” from its traditional spot during the 7th inning stretch. Even though many fans are disgusted with the drug use, the trash talk and the $7.75 beers, baseball and its patriotic pull lures us back. No matter where you stand politically, it’s hard to avoid the place where baseball and being an American come together.
It seems that real life no longer stops at the turnstile. We use the occasion of a public gathering to pay tribute to those who have lost or given their lives. We cannot escape the symbolism of the color guard, standing at attention in center field, as we rise for our national anthem.
Perhaps baseball is giving us an opportunity we might not otherwise take: the chance to stand up, with hats off and hands on our hearts, to proclaim a deep, but troubled love for our country. In luxury boxes and bleachers alike, with tears in our eyes and a catch in our throats, regardless of how we feel about the war and all the rest, we take a moment out of our lives and reflect on what it means today to live in “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
Flag on the field photo courtesy of Al Rehmke