Our recent visit to Safeco Field highlights the fact that America still works for most people, most of the time. Yes, millions of citizens face painful challenges in paying their rent or feeding the kids, but supermarket shelves are still stocked with affordable goods, the majority of planes land on time, factories still hum and lead the world in manufactured goods (China isn't even close), hospitals perform daily miracles in helping the sick, and schools manage to teach the basics to the great majority of their students.
That doesn't mean that everything's perfect in the nation at large, and it doesn't absolve our leaders or institutions for manifold displays of incompetence and corruption. There's also no excuse for Mariners management shelling out one of the higher payrolls in baseball for an epically anemic offense. But strikeouts and losing streaks don't erase the irresistible fun of the game — any more than a wretched economy and stumbling political leadership eliminate the joys and blessings of daily life in America.
Watching the Mariners lose, I came away with two profoundly reassuring messages about our country at large.
First, the traditions of baseball remain precious and satisfying regardless of the on-field fortunes of any particular team. Watching the batters limbering up in the on-deck circle, the conferences on the mound, the manager storming out of the dugout to argue a questionable call — it's all timeless, virtually unchanged from the games I used to attend with my late father some 50 years ago. That's also true of the nation itself, even in this turbulent era: the protest, the indignation, the resilience, the defiant activism, the dark humor about politicos and their misdeeds — all reflect familiar American themes that we could recognize from ancestors some 200 years ago.
Then there's the ever-lasting chant of any fan saddled with a losing team: "Wait till next year." Fortunes turn around quickly in sports, economics and politics. In the '80s we went from one of the sharpest recessions in recent history, to one of the most ballyhooed booms by the middle of the decade. Less than two years ago, Republicans looked doomed to permanent exile as an irrelevant minority, but polls now promise them a major comeback.
In that spirit, there's no guarantee that the Mariners' performance will improve dramatically next season; in Pittsburgh, the Pirates have fielded losing teams without letup for nearly a generation. But in most other places losers transform to winners almost overnight, and every new opening day brings indomitable new hope. The United States may suffer a few consecutive losing seasons, but even citizens who don't follow baseball can understand that before long we'll be back to reclaim our time-honored standing as the world's greatest winners. And meanwhile, it's still a joy and a privilege to watch the game.