A Paean to America’s No Longer Favorite Pastime

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Title: Fastball

Rating: 4 Stars

When I was growing up, I devoured trivia / anecdote books. One thing that is definitely true of baseball is that it is full of anecdotes and trivia.

I therefore for a period of time was fascinated with baseball history. I read up about Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Stan the Man Musial, Dizzy Dean, Lefty Grove, Lefty Gomez, and of course Steve ‘Lefty’ Carlton. I was much more interested in baseball lore than I was in the statistics.

That, ultimately, is the beauty of baseball. It’s pastoral. It moves at a leisurely pace. There is no clock. The outfielders patrol their vast expanse of grass. After all, the aim of the game is to go home.

It’s not surprising that baseball really came of age in the late 19th and early 20th century. America at that point was in transition from a rural farming country to an urban manufacturing one. The game of baseball hearkens back to that older time.

It’s also not surprising that in the last forty years that football has supplanted baseball as the national pastime. It’s a much more system driven sport. The players hide themselves behind masks and pads. Each play of the game is centrally planned with a detailed process and each player has an explicitly designed role in each play. Teams go on drives with the goal of reaching the end zone. It is sport as corporation.

This movie was a poem to the sport of baseball. The poem was about the magic of the fastball. Players from the beloved legendary past of baseball (Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Ernie Banks, George Brett, Tony Gwynn, Hank Aaron) all told stories of their experiences with some of the best fastball pitchers of their time. They told amusing, self deprecatory stories that you’d expect from a group of old-timers gathered around a cracker barrel in an old country store.

The discussion centered around some of the greatest fastball pitchers of all time:  Goose Gossage, Walter P Johnson, Bob Feller, Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax, and Nolan Ryan. Most of the pitchers still alive were interviewed. Goose Gossage spoke of how he loved to intimidate batters. Bob Gibson discussed how the everyday racism and lack of run support fueled his anger (as well as the fact that his bad eyesight caused him to squint at the catcher, which batters interpreted as anger).

I channeled my now dormant inner baseball geek and thoroughly enjoyed it. I understand that America has changed and so therefore must its sports. That doesn’t mean that I don’t sometimes look back with nostalgia on the slower, simpler times that once was.

For about ninety minutes, I allowed myself to slip back into that past.

 

 

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