Monday, January 14, 2013

Waving the sword, cracking the bat: Baseball and fantasy fiction

As a boy growing up in Kentucky in the 1970s, I lived under the shadow of the Big Red Machine. For those of you who are not sports fans, specifically baseball fans, the Big Red Machine was a nickname of sorts given to the Cincinnati Reds team in the early parts of that decade. Who gave them the nickname, I don't know, but it stuck from about 1970 through about '77, give or take a year or a season.

I was a baseball fan then. As a lad, I got to know the names, faces, and stats of gods who walked among us mere mortals, gods with names like Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Ken Griffey (Sr., not Jr.), Dave Concepcion, Cesar Geronimo, George Foster, Sparky Anderson, Joe Morgan, and others. I got more than one chance to attend games featuring these gods, and even got to meet a few of them personally.

Years passed, the '70s passed, I grew older, and the Big Red Machine faded into history. During my high school years, I was more of a football fan. I played some football in school, played soccer for a few years, was even on a bowling team for a while.

Oddly enough, I have never been much of a basketball fan despite the fact I grew up and lived at least half my life in Big Blue basketball country. If I have to watch basketball, I  prefer collegiate level ball as I find it the most competitive. High school basketball holds little interest for me because the teams and scores always seem so one sided, and pro basketball to me is practically a joke, with lanky fellows running back and forth for two hours only to have every frickin' score come down to a separation of only two or four points. From my way of looking at it, pro basketball is only important for about the last minute of the game, so why not make each game a minute long so we can move on to something more interesting?

Back to baseball.

In the 1990s, I moved to Ohio and lived there for nearly all of the decade. There, I rediscovered my love of baseball. A large part of this was because I was surrounded by baseball fans, but it didn't hurt that the town I lived in had a new minor league team (I love minor league baseball to this day). It also didn't hurt that the Cleveland Indians were one hot team in the '90s. Oh, the Reds were hot once more in the early parts of that decade, but I think for the most part the 1990s belonged to the Indians when it comes to Ohio baseball.

For better or worse, when I moved away from Ohio, I lost much of my love for baseball, and for sports in general. The last 10 or 12 years, I've just not been that interested. In fact, most of it has seemed kind of silly. Some might consider me a fair-weather fan, but to me, it felt more like the game (and sports in general) had betrayed me, not so much that I had lost interest. Everything was about steroids and money and drugs and Congressional hearings and practically anything and everything except what happened on the field.

Of late I've been reading a little about baseball, fiction and non-fiction, and this got me to thinking about the game, about why I loved the game and why I have lost interest concerning it at various points in my life.

For, there is no doubt, baseball is my favorite of all sports. Even during my teen years when I was an Oakland Raiders and football fan, I still loved baseball. Even though I have rarely played and am no good at baseball, I still love the game.

And that is what dawned on me, I loved the game, not all the nonsense that has gone on around the game the last couple of decades. Controversy is not new to baseball, but there has seemed to be more and more of it as I've gotten older, but that's practically the case with all parts of American society.

Yet I've strayed. Instead of holding on to what I loved, I strayed.

Or have I?

True, I no longer keep up with the sport. It's been at least a decade since I've been to a game. I probably couldn't name a single player today, not unless he's some old foggie who is clinging on from ye olden days. Hell, I might not even be able to name all the teams as they seem to change every few years. I do know my favorite minor league teams have changed leagues several times, but that's not uncommon for minor league ball. I do know my favorite minor league players have all moved on, are now accountants or engineers or attorneys, some few still in the game as batting coaches and the like for one team or another.

The game has changed, as have I.

But thinking even harder and deeper, something dawned on me recently. The game is still there for me in my head. It hasn't changed. The rules, the names, the stats, the history, it's all still there.

Another thing that has recently dawned upon me is that my interest in baseball at different points in my life has coincided with my lack of interest in fantasy literature. Either one or the other was in my life, but not both at the same time. The last decade, fantasy fiction has been a big part of my life, but not baseball.

This thinking got me to realize that I have not actually lost my love for baseball, only transferred it, much as I did at early points in my life. I've gone from loving baseball to loving fantasy fiction, then back and forth several times throughout my life.

Why should this be so? Why cannot both exist for me at the same time?

Could it be, for me at least, that there is a relationship between fantasy and baseball?

I'm a writer by trade at this point, mostly fantasy fiction writing. I write about men with swords facing down impossible odds, setting things right in the world with their skill and talent, their quick wits and sometimes their sheer might.

Kind of like baseball.

Stretching my thoughts further, I see more and more connecting fantasy and baseball. One of the things I always loved about baseball was the history. Names like Cobb and Ruth and Mays and DiMaggio, these men were gods, not that different than Zeus or Apollo or Sauron or Hood. In fantasy, there are ancient wars between gods and heroes and monster and wizards, just like in baseball there have been great conflicts between the Dodgers and Yankees and Red Sox and Braves.

Hell, there's even armor and weapons in baseball. Umpires wear armor, as do catchers. If a bat is not a weapon in disguise, then I don't know what is. Even the balls themselves are occasionally used to bean a player.

There are rules in baseball, as is often the case in fantasy. Magic usually has rules. Knights and their ilk often have rules of chivalry. Wizards and gods must follow rules, or else they will lose their powers and plummet from upon high.

Heroes come in two forms, the triumphant and the tragic ... compare Aragorn to Boromir ... or Cal Ripken Jr. to Roger Maris. In fantasy, along the way there are many hurdles a hero must overcome or fall prey to, just like the long seasons in baseball. Also in fantasy, there are many lesser characters, those who always have the potential to be a great hero or villain, but who rarely live up to such, which is why they are lesser characters. Sort of like amateur league ball or even the minor leagues when compared to pro baseball.

There are actual bases in baseball, just like there are major plot points within fantasy. An armored hero only reaches the end, the climax, the slaying of the dragon, after overcoming or defeating many other lesser evils, kind of like passing first, second and then third base before heading on to home.

Maybe I'm reading too much into all this. But what the hell? I mean, it's only a blog post, right? Just because something is written online somewhere doesn't mean it's actually truth.

But I kind of like it.

And I'm missing baseball again. For the first time in a long time. Fortunately for me, the Durham Bulls are just down the road from me.

Maybe it's time to make a trip once baseball season opens up again.

Hopefully, I can contain my love of fantasy and my love of baseball at the same time. If not, maybe I'll have to take up writing fiction about baseball.

There are worse things.

And I'm not sure it would be all that different than my fantasy writing.

1 comment:

Charles Gramlich said...

Our public school had no baseball teams at all so I never played and never developed a love for it. Football is my sport, and about the only one I actually watch.