Zen of sports
Loving baseball doesn’t mean ignoring the injustices of the world
For many years, I have been in the habit of listening to San Francisco Giants baseball games on a little silver transistor radio I carry from room to room and out into the garden. After I left Sacramento to live in Berkeley, I had a neighbor who was bothered by my interest in the Giants, and he told me so one day when he found me in my vegetable patch listening to a game while I pulled weeds and watered.
“You’re such an intelligent person,” he said, shaking his head. “How can you listen to that meaningless junk when there’s so much suffering in the world?”
This fellow, I hasten to add, walked his talk. He was a medical doctor who worked long hours in a clinic for poor people and spent the rest of his time reading books about social injustice and political corruption, and writing passionate letters to government officials, and marching against social injustice and wars waged for corporate hegemony. He lived frugally and gave away most of the money he made to help fund the clinic where he worked, so …
“This is an antidote to my own suffering,” I replied, comforted by the inimitable ambience only baseball on the radio provides. “A form of guided meditation.”
“Sponsored by earth-killing corporations,” he said, pointing at my radio dangling amid the snow-pea vines. “Listen. Yet another ad for Chevron.”
“I studiously do not buy gas from Chevron,” I said—an easy boast, since I didn’t own a car.
“But why do you like that garbage?” he asked, visibly upset. “You like basketball, too, don’t you?”
“Love basketball,” I said, nodding. “Basketball was my salvation and succor for many years.”
“And you actually care who wins?” He sighed despondently. “What a waste.”
“I care, and I don’t care,” I said, as one of our boys led off the seventh with a single. “The game matters in the moment and doesn’t matter in the next moment. I’m not attached once the game is over. For long.”
“But do you know why the major corporations sponsor these games?” he asked, waving his arms in frustration. “Because it keeps people occupied so they won’t take any meaningful action to create substantive change. It’s a mechanism of social control. And look what they’re selling. Gasoline, beer, cars, insurance, computers, plastic, Las Vegas.”
“So what do you think I should do?” I asked, trying not to hold him responsible for altering the game with his negative attitude (see quantum physics) and causing the double play that just wiped out our first decent scoring opportunity since the first inning. “I don’t have a television or a car or health insurance or really much of anything except a piano, a guitar, a very slow computer, and things to cook with. You want me to toss the little radio and take a vow of chastity and silence? Gimme a break, it’s baseball. I love baseball. I played baseball growing up. Baseball is in my bones, in my blood.”
“Entrained since childhood,” he said, nodding dolefully. “That’s what they do. Cradle-to-grave entrainment disguised as entertainment.”
Then it hit me: This guy did not play baseball growing up. Baseball was not in his bones, in his blood. He did not understand what I was experiencing when I listened to a game on the radio, because he had no real understanding of the language of baseball. He might as well have been listening to someone speaking Greek, assuming he didn’t understand Greek, which I think is a fair assumption.
And the moment I realized that his antipathy was as much about what he didn’t understand about baseball as it was about what he did understand about corporate control of the media, I was filled with compassion and said, “Want any lettuce? I have a vast surplus in need of harvesting.”
“Love some,” he said, his frown giving way to a smile.