“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again. Oh people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come” –Terrence Mann - “Field of Dreams”
I love baseball. I love its history and traditions. It is our pastime. A treasure which is handed from generation to generation. Each generation may put its own small stamp on the game, organic development if you will, but the game remains the same. In the American psyche it cannot be replaced, but that doesn’t keep people from trying.
Back in the 60’s (what was it with the 60’s), a group thought that they could do better than baseball. Baseball was too slow, there was not enough action and too many rules that thusly hindered fan participation. No, they wanted to jazz things up. Even though baseball had provided generation after generation entertainment, they were convinced they could come up with a sport that would quickly supplant it.
So they put their collective heads together and came up with the answer. A fast moving sport that has much simpler rules. One that was sure to thrill and sure to increase fan participation. To go the extra step just to make sure that this new sport would supplant the old and the slow, they even added gambling. Who could resist the speed, the action, the gambling induced fan participation? They were sure, as sure as small groups committed to radical change are sure, that they had the new national pastime in Jai-Alai.
For a time, it seemed that these “revolutionaries” might be on to something and Jai-Alai gained in popularity in the 60’s and 70’s. Jai-Alai centers popped up in various different places. Some people found that this novelty new and exciting. The sport grew.
But a strange thing happened that these revolutionaries hadn’t foreseen. This new found love for the sport failed to pass on from generation to generation. As novelty, it failed to maintain its appeal once it became familiar. People, in particular young people, still found the joy of the previous generations in baseball. They mysteriously sought ought the slow game with the many rules that tied them to so many generations before. They found that even though they weren’t constantly cheering and gambling, they could still participate in baseball. They found that there is a certain joy that comes from understanding all the rules and the nuances. It was a different kind of participation, but a joyful one.
As the numbers dwindled and Jai-Alai center closed, the revolutionaries puzzled over their failed revolution. How could this be? Don’t they know what we gave them is so much better? Attendance continued to fall. For sure, Jai-Alai still has its devotees, but they are mostly retirees in Florida and they will likely soon be gone.
So it is that even though novelty will always seem to thrill, the thrill fades. People come back to their traditions, their history, their identity. They come back to that which served so many generations before so well. Each generation will continue to put its stamp on this organically developed game, but the game will always remain the same, and for this we should be grateful.
I look forward to handing the love of the game to my children and they in turn will put their own small stamp on it. But, as Terrence Mann in “Field of Dreams” reminds us baseball is the constant “It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again.”
People will come.