Monday, 23 August 2010

A Sport and a Pastime

I'm not all that big of a sports enthusiast, so I'm not altogether sure why it should figure in two of my most recent posts. I suppose what I am interested in is the way in which sport embodies that most human of enterprises--making the most meaningless and trivial of things meaningful. I don't mean this dismissively. Rather, to say that such meaning-making is what essentially makes us human. The fact that some guy at the local deli can recount to you, with feeling, a game that was played fifty years ago is no small matter. For him, for us, even play can share something of the sacred.

'Walter Johnson' by Jonathan Richman
Walter Johnson (1887-1946) was a Major League Baseball pitcher from 1907 to 1927. Here is fellow hall-of-famer Ty Cobb:

'On August 2, 1907, I encountered the most threatening sight I ever saw in the ball field. He was a rookie, and we licked our lips as we warmed up for the first game of a doubleheader in Washington. Evidently, manager Pongo Joe Cantillon of the Nats had picked a rube out of the cornfields of the deepest bushes to pitch against us... He was a tall, shambling galoot of about twenty, with arms so long they hung far out of his sleeves, and with a sidearm delivery that looked unimpressive at first glance... One of the Tigers imitated a cow mooing, and we hollered at Cantillon: '"Get the pitchfork ready, Joe--your hayseed's on his way back to the barn."...The first time I faced him, I watched him take that easy windup. And then something went past me that made me flinch. The thing just hissed with danger. We couldn't touch him... every one of us knew we'd met the most powerful arm ever turned loose in a ball park.'

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