Sunday, April 30, 2006

Gimme a legacy, and make it with mustard, relish, and onions

This post is a little past due, but crap happens. Back in March, baseball teams from all over the world competed in what was truly the first World Series, the World Baseball Classic. Sixteen different countries sent their best professional baseball players to find out who, in the end, was the best in the world. At baseball. A sport that we, Americans, invented. And that we, Americans, consider our National Pastime. Naturally, against all these fifteen other countries, where baseball wasn't invented and isn't the National Pastime, we would win hands down. Baseball, after all, is our sport.

Well, we didn't win, and the hands weren't even close to being down. We didn't even make it to the final game. We didn't even make it to the semi-finals. In the first round we beat South Africa and Mexico, but lost to Canada, 8-6. Then in the second round we squeaked by Japan 4-3, only to lose to Korea, 7-3, and then Mexico, 2-1. Then we went home. If you must know, Japan defeated Cuba in the final game to become the true World Champion.

A lot of people were outraged that we didn't win the World Baseball Classic. After all, didn't we invent baseball? Isn't it our National Pastime? If we can't beat everyone else in the world at baseball, then something must be wrong. The games were rigged. Or the United States has some Fundamental Flaws that need to be fixed Right Now, like Teaching The Bible In Public Schools. (I mean, after all, didn't Jesus play baseball when he was a kid?)

That's what a lot of people thought, about our being summarily eliminated from the World Baseball Classic.

I think differently. This is what I think:

I think it's great!

What! you cry. Am I un-American? Do I hate America and all it stands for?

No, I answer. I think it's great because I am American, and I love all the good things America stands for.

Simply put, we were eliminated from the World Baseball Classic because baseball has become so prevalent and widely played in other countries, because so many children in other countries all around the world play baseball, because so many parents in other countries take their children to practice and toss balls with them in their yards, because so many families in so many other countries buy tickets and sit in stadiums to watch professionals play baseball, baseball is no longer the private sport of the United States. It's global. It's a part of human culture.

Over the course of human history, some nations have become empires. Or maybe instead of "empire" I will call them "dominant nations." Most dominant nations arise, impose their will, and then fade away. A wall, or mound covering treasure, may be all that's left to mark their existence. But other dominant nations, the lucky few, leave a legacy to those of us who come after. The power and influence of Greece has long, long passed, but Greeks left us a great legacy in the idea of democracy -- a truly revolutionary concept at the time, that government should not be the right of the strongest bully, but the consensus of the governed.

Then there were the Romans. Again, an empire long gone. but they left us the concept of human rights -- that there are rights we all have, no matter what race or tribe we belong to. A noble legacy.

More recently, England was a dominant nation, and though it's faded it left us a legacy in the form of its legal system. We have England to thank for trial by jury.

So now it's us, the United States, the most recent and probably most powerful dominant nation in history. At this point. we are clearly an empire in decline. Our influence lessens as each day passes, and it won't ever return. Our reign has been short, but perhaps this is to be expected. Unlike the Greeks, Romans, and English, we also had a meteoric rise: The United States rocketed from Second Rate Power to The Most Powerful Nation That Has Ever Existed in just 907 days, from December 7th, 1941, when the Japanese woke us up at Pearl Harbor, to June 3rd, 1944, when Rome became the first Axis capital to fall to the American army, and we were about to launch a worldwide offensive war the likes of which had never been seen before. We rose to dominance very, very quickly; we achieved a level of dominance that had never been equaled or even approached; and now we are on a meteoric path down. Our day has passed.

So the question is, will we leave a legacy? The Greeks left us democracy. The Romans left us human rights. The English left us a system of justice. Will we leave anything? Will America be remembered?

Yes, we will be remembered. Because we have left baseball. From Cape Town to Kyoto, Seoul to Santiago, people are playing baseball. And they play it as well as we do -- better, actually. They must love it as we do.

Baseball as America's legacy? I like it. As legacies go, we could do worse (we may still -- think atom bomb). Baseball is a civilized sport. No one tries to hurt anyone else. It's played with grace and beauty. The pace is leisurely, not stressed. Fans, friends, and families relax and socialize. People meet at the game to catch up on what's been happening in their lives. What other sport has that? Baseball is associated with summer and sunshine and joy.

Greeks... democracy.

Romans... human rights.

English... trial by jury.

Americans... baseball.

It doesn't bother me that we were eliminated from the World Baseball Classic, because I think we'll hold our own in history's World Legacy Classic.

Batter up!



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