Take Me Out to the Ballgame

Why the seventh-inning-stretch song is more than just a song

Take me out to the ballgame…

Not just any old ballgame.
But a game played
with a horsehide ball.
Horsehide not pigskin.
A hard little white ball.
not a big bouncy brown ball
or a black and white spotted ball.
A game with bases not with hoops
A game with home plate
and not hash marks
A game with catchers not keepers.
Take me out with the crowd…

Not just any old crowd,
but a loud crowd in a classic baseball stadium.
Not a hushed gallery on a manicured golf course
or an elite crowd dressed
to the nines at a purebred track,
but a loud crowd
of every imaginable size and shape
clothed in every imaginable home team apparel.
A loud proud crowd with one thing in common.
They are a family of fans
who feel related to all the brothers
on the field and in the dugout.
Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jacks…

Not just any old snack will do.
There are certain givens for a game at the yard.
The unshelled salted nuts.
The timeless caramel corn
with a toy surprise in every box.
But don’t stop there.
You just gotta have
one of those over-priced hot dogs
served up by those
overweight loud-barking vendors.
A Coke on ice or a beer in hand
is a traditional must to wash down the dust
on a hot summer day
as the wind swirls around the infield.
And don’t forget a cup of malted ice cream
with the itty-bitty wooden spoon.
That’s a taste treat that will sweeten
even those long bitter days
when your team comes up short.
I don’t care if I ever get back…

It’s really true.
You wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
The smell of well-oiled ball gloves,
the infield dirt and the grassy outfield
are fragrances that make you wish
time would stand still.
But don’t forget your other senses.
Like your hearing for instance.
The piercing crack of a wooden bat
colliding with a 94 mile per hour pitch.
That by itself is enough to raise
goose pimples on your arms.
It’s a sound that takes you back
to the days of your youth
when your dad watched you
get your first Little League hit
or when he and your grandpa or (your Uncle Al)
took you to your first Major League game.
It’s a sound you could listen to all day.
No wonder they call baseball
our national pastime.
It’s a most tantalizing way to pass the time
without being tagged out by guilt.
While a bunted ball rolls slowly
down the third base line,
you feel the stress of work roll off your back.
No wonder we hope for extra innings.
The demands and deadlines of the job can wait.
For it’s root, root, root for the home team….

From a solitary “Hey batter, batter”
to a stadium-wide wave,
rooting is as individual as each unique fan’s response
or as all-encompassing
as the waving arms on either side of you.
There are chants as old as childhood cheers.
Ones like “Here we go Cubbies. Here we go!” 
Or “We want a hit! We want a hit!”
There are choruses of time-honored roots
led by the man at the Wurlitzer organ in the press box.
You know.
Ones like,  “Da-duh da duh duh-da. CHARGE!”
And of course there’s the age-old Bronx cheer
just to annoy the visiting team
in its drab gray traveling uniforms.
Everybody knows that baseball fans
are not allowed to remain silent.
Like the “amens” or “praise the Lords” at church,
the congregation perched above
the hallowed ground of heaven on earth
has a responsibility to raise their voices
and confess their desires
without concern for anonymity.
If they don’t win it’s a shame….

Whoever said “winning isn’t everything”
certainly wasn’t a baseball fanatic.
The root word from which the word fan
emerges into the luxury box of linguistics
implies the antithesis of apathy
or a comfort level with loss.
For the true fanatic, defeat is detestable.
The longing for victory is the only thing
that keeps you coming back to the ballpark
game after game, season after season,
century after century
(especially if you are a Chicago Cubs fan).
For it’s one, two, three strikes you’re out….

Three strikes. Four balls. Nine players.
Three and two. A single. A double. A triple.
A four bagger. A double-play. A triple play.
Three up and three down. A double-header.
Now those are numbers that make sense.
Forget the new math.
The old kind is the only kind that really adds up.
Forget that dreaded report card.
A scorecard is all that really matters.
At the old ballgame…

An old game that is rich
with tradition and historical significance.
An old game that is nonetheless always new. 
New players, new uniforms, new ball yards,
new rivalries, new records and new fans.
While it may be an old game, it is a game that,
like a rare vintage wine,
grows better with time.
It improves with age from age to age.
Come autumn time it remains the rage.
This old ballgame can still capture
the imagination of an entire nation
for two weeks every October.
Just listen to the song
the faithful continue to sing
at the top of their lungs
just before the bottom
of the seventh inning.
And as you listen,
look beneath the lyrics
to the mystery they invoke.