With the arrival of April, I am looking forward to the beginning of the baseball season – not a phrase I thought I would find myself saying before I moved to America.
This love affair began on our 10th wedding anniversary last year when we took a trip to New York and I agreed to see the Yankees play to make my husband happy. (I would have preferred a Broadway show, but marriage is all about compromise – right?)
I am lucky enough to have a (usually) patient husband who explained the game to me, but I must admit that I thought he was joking when he warned me about the seventh-inning stretch. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed jumping around to “YMCA” and learning “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” I was lucky enough to see three home runs and a grand slam in that fabulous Yankees game. By the end of the evening, I was hooked.
Since returning home, we began to support the local minor league baseball team, the Savannah Sand Gnats, and became regular visitors to Grayson Stadium on East Victory Drive. I love the feeling of unity and patriotism as everyone stands when the national anthem is played and the enthusiastic hope that the home team will win this time. I love the excitement of the game, sitting outside in the warm evening, and also the fact that friendly girls serve sodas and hamburgers (for me) or beer and hotdogs (for my husband). As Humphrey Bogart once said, “A hot dog at the ball game beats roast beef at the Ritz!”
This is unexpected for me, as I am not a sports fan and always have found the related game of cricket, which is very popular in England, rather dull. Maybe I just have too many bored childhood memories of sitting on wet grass in cloudy, cold summer weather watching male friends and relatives play cricket to have developed an enjoyment of this very British game.
Also, I must admit to a common British misconception that I used to hold. Many British people think baseball is the same as rounders – a game played between two teams alternating between batting and fielding – which is popular with schoolchildren in the U.K. and Ireland. It is defined as “a striking and fielding team game, which involves hitting a small, hard leather-cased ball with a round wooden, plastic or metal bat and then running around four bases in order to score.” Sound familiar?
Just as cricket originally was played by children in England in Norman times (1066 onwards) and only adopted by adult men in Tudor Times (the 15th century onwards), the childish British game of rounders was adapted by Americans in the early 19th century to become the baseball of today.
In fact, the rules of baseball were formalized in 1845 and the first recorded baseball game took place the following year in New York. Baseball survived the Civil War, and its popularity was spread throughout the South by Union soldiers. In 1869, the Cincinnati Red Stockings (now known as the Reds and my husband’s home team) became the first completely professional baseball team, and the rest is history. Today, major league baseball game attendance in America is close to 80 million people a year, and the game has spread throughout the world.
I still don’t understand that other great American game, football, although that is in another season and another column
God bless America! Oh, and go Sand Gnats!