Patriotism, Politics, and Playing Ball Revisited, One More Time

Update: 2020. This is something I wrote in 2005. During the opening ceremonies at the World Series Game 2 in San Francisco in 2003, a giant American flag filled the field, held high by representatives of our armed services. A Marine who had lost both legs and an arm tossed out the first pitch. The looks on the faces of the athletes was hard to misinterpret. They may have spent time on the DL, but looking at this young man standing tall in his uniform put everything in a very different light. So, here are  my reflections on patriotism, politics, and playing baseball from several years ago. Beer costs way more today, but there won’t be anyone at the ballpark to buy it, so there’s that. This year there are still soldiers fighting and dying far away, but now we are also focused on the violence right here at home, and the toll the pandemic is taking. We may not be attending games and watching who will take a knee and who will offer support and who will choose to do nothing for a year or more. Does it makes sense to mix patriotism, politics and sports today…or ever?


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 and women 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.

baseball Al

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 to reflect on what we believe, and what it means today to live in “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

Play ball.

Flag on the field photo courtesy of Al Rehmke

3 Responses to Patriotism, Politics, and Playing Ball Revisited, One More Time

  1. Cathy says:

    Baseball and patriotism. What a wonderful salute to our armed forces, to our national pastime and to why we need to be thankful everyday for our freedoms. Thank you for the gentle reminder that those who protect us need our ongoing respect and thanks (although I didn’t need a reminder, but it was appreciated all the same!) Nice post.

  2. Every time I attend a game I get those tears in my eyes and that lump in my throat too.
    No matter what our politics when we are in our stadiums, in our city’s we are all rooting for the same team.That is such a good feeling. Especially when our team wins!

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