Paul Greenberg

BOSTON - The function of baseball at its best is that of any high art: to take us out of ourselves, to recall us to life, to disrupt the normal unhappiness. It breaks up what Walker Percy called the malaise of everydayness, and reintroduces us to the sublime.

That's why I'm in this milling crowd inching its way toward storied Fenway Park, home of the Red Sox and field of too-often broken dreams. Sunday in the park with Ramirez and Papelbon and Youkilis is a kind of high holiday.

The crowd itself is a study. There are ball caps aplenty with the stylized, turn of-the-century B in colors from feminine pink to Irish green, baseball shirts with the name and number of the fan's favorite player on the back, and T-shirts bearing slogans expressing various degrees of disdain for the Sox's archrival, the hated/feared Yankees.

Some of the messages can actually be printed in a family newspaper. My favorite is worn by a petite brunette. Its demure, lower-case white letters on a red background inform: real women don't date yankee fans.

It's good to see that Boston still retains a little Beacon Hill restraint.

It occurs that the (damn) Yankees are a necessary evil in this town, for what would the Red Sox be without them? It would be like Athens without Sparta, Holmes without Moriarty, Louis without Schmeling. Every great drama must have conflict at its center.

Like the Greek chorus in a classic text, the crowd is an essential part of the performance. A Red Sox home game combines the communal and sublime, qualities so often at odds with one another that, when combined, the effect is an almost conscious exhilaration.

You realize at such moments what a small, parochial town Boston really is and why people love that about it. One can love New York, I suppose, but not in the way one loves Boston, or any other great city that still seems small.

It must have been like this when tens of thousands of Athenians poured into the amphitheater to see - no, hear - Sophocles' latest, and have their souls laid bare. Call it catharsis. The fans don't need to know the word to have the feeling.

As you shuffle down the streets and alleys toward Yawkey Way, circling the ballpark in search of your gate, you can almost feel the timeless clock of baseball being wound up. Soon there will be no minutes and hours, only outs and innings. As we pass through the turnstile, any outsized bag is inspected and tagged - a last reminder of the warring world outside.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.