Paul Greenberg

Anyone who says baseball is a slow game isn't watching it with a proper appreciation of the possibilities at every moment, of what can happen with every pitch. And between them. Just as it is the silences before the words that make great dialogue.

Inning after inning, what might happen becomes what didn't. A run here, a great catch there, bobbles everywhere. And then, with the score 2 to 2 in the bottom of the eighth ... Arkansas' bats come to life. By the end of the home team's five-run eighth, it's 7 to 2, the final score. Expectations are more than fulfilled.

And yet something is missing. The stands are full, a sea of red-and-white, the Razorback colors, but it all seems a tamer version of the real game, as college baseball will. It is all -- how should I put it? -- too wholesome.

The clean-cut young players are still at the outset of their careers and life. There is none of that Texas League mix of weathered old-timers on the way down and promising young rookies on their way up, mixed with players who will always be minor-league.

It is in the minor leagues where the spirit of baseball still lives, not fresh but gritty. But tonight all is washed clean as the fresh uniforms. The creases are yet unformed on the young faces, the malice of time still to come.

The white-bread families in the stands are an advertisement for the good life. The grandma a seat over reaches across the squirming little boy between us and brushes the popcorn crumbs off his seat, keeping things as neat as in her living room. At some point Edward Hopper has given way to Norman Rockwell.

The well-behaved crowd erupts in cheers in the eighth, Arkansas's big inning, but it's the kind of cheering you might hear at a college graduation. Loud but appropriate. All is niceness, and I'm not sure I can stand it.

The little stadium is a well-designed, G-rated, deliberate re-creation of an early 20th Century ballpark. In tonight's crowd, there is a paucity of the hard-faced women and beefy men in unfortunate shorts you might see at a poorly attended minor-league game in the middle of a lackluster season.

It's enough to make you wonder what's happened to the American character, and whether it's still capable of a little saving decadence. All I ask is just a touch of the sordid. But the Arkansas Travelers of the Texas League play their first home game here Thursday, April 14th, starting at 7:10, and we live in hope.

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.