"You know how, when you fly from coast to coast on a really clear day, looking down from many miles up, you can see the little baseball diamonds everywhere? And every time I see a baseball diamond my heart goes out to it . . . ." -- Donald Hall
Another one of those little diamonds you see from the air closed down last week. The Arkansas Travelers of the Texas League have played their last game at classic old Ray Winder Field here, for next season they move into their spiffy new riverfront stadium. But there was something special about this classic old minor-league ballpark, and scarcely a dry eye in the more-than-capacity crowd that turned out for The Last Game.
Why have so many Americans through the years had the same thought/prayer as they watched a ballgame: "God, I love this game!"
The love of baseball is as hard to explain as the game itself to someone who doesn't share it. To explain baseball's peculiar charm would be like an Englishman trying to explain the fascination of a cricket match. Maybe you just have to grow up with it.
This much is for sure: Baseball's attraction involves a lot more than just the sight of all that grace and youth and power on the field. It's the game itself that calls out to you. Contrary to superficial impressions, there's something going on in a baseball game even when nothing is, much like the dog that didn't bark in the Sherlock Holmes story.
Part of baseball's attraction has to be tradition. Childhood memories evoke a sense of duty about going to a game to root, root, root for the home team when you're an alleged grownup.
Not that it matters, but the Travs would win this last home game 7-3 against the even more hapless Springfield (Mo.) Cardinals. But it's not the wining or losing that matters to the true fan, but the graceful geometry, the timeless clock, the beauty of the game itself.
As with cricket, baseball's appeal also has something to do with the intricacies of the game itself, the shared secrets, the rulebook that some of us studied the way parliamentarians do Robert's Rules of Order.
One reason Americans love baseball is because it's so . . . American. An Italian exchange student who wanted to get a quick take on this strange country once asked me what he needed to know in order to understand America.
The best I could come up with on the spot was the U.S. Constitution, jazz and baseball. And not necessarily in that order. (Come to think, they all have this much in common: Each is a whole, interlocking composition made up of discrete riffs, the effect of which is much greater than the sum of its parts.)