Often allegory is used to exhibit a point of a perception, what follows is my attempt to do just that. Last week I attended a screening of Animal House at The Historic Artcraft Theatre. Four hundred people showed up, some adorned in togas, some with College sweatshirts, all gathered to have fun and all gathered to understand and celebrate once that was and what will be again.
The sports that mirrors the American experience in my humble opinion is baseball. It is a reflective ballet of team synergy coupled with moments of individuals excellent. There really is not better place than a baseball park on a summer afternoon. The crowds are not over zealous, the green of grass, the blue of the sky and the occasional breeze that blankets the crowd, it is magical. When I was a lad people like Willie Mays, Vida Blue, Rusty Staub and Bobby Bonds ruled the field. It was magical. I witnessed first hand in established temples of the sport the strategic battles between teams like the Montreal Expos and the Chicago Cubs. For a boy, a Coke in your hand, the cap of your team perched on your head nothing was better… you were in heaven.
With a bat and a ball you could with a couple of friends mount your own game, in a street, in a nearby field or a schoolyard. While the level of the play was no where near the pros who you worshiped, you could attempt to re-enact a play or a move exhibited by your idols. There were moments when the bat connected with the ball that the excitement would be equaled. Your pursuit of a base coupled with the anxiety about a broken window could be palpable. As your foot headed for the garbage lid that was first base your ears would be perked up for the sound of breaking glass.
As you listened to a night game, your parents would share stories of baseball past. In my case my father told me of seeing Jackie Robinson play for the Montreal Royals prior to his being called up by the Brooklyn Dodgers. They spoke of moral giants of men, like Branch Rickey who effected great moral and societal change through his actions. In the heart of baseball beat the heart of America, they were one in the same.
Something changed though.
Football soon began to overtake the airwaves, the game of Vince Lombardi receded in favor of a loud and brash presentation of sport. Analyst who provided color filled the many pauses in that sport with inane banter and often shallow prognostication. The deftness and entertainment value of a Harry Carey or a Duke Snyder was diminished in a brittle sea of testosterone filled babble. The sport they most admired shifted by the elegant choreography of the baseball diamond to the brutality of the football field. Whether driven by the infliction of Vietnam or the rise of television, admiration was now misdirected to those that could inflict the most damage from those who with deftness and style pluck a tiny white ball out of a summer sky and pull victory from the savage jaws of defeat. The broadcasters associated with the game of football seem to be intent on filling the air with useless words rather than apt analysis. I would say that the political commentators of today have taken a page from their book and unfortunately perform in a similar manner.
There are scores of double A and triple A ball field across this country where you can still go and experience the baseball that weaved through America at one time, but it has been more than diminished. People often comment that watching baseball is boring, they just do not get it. In a bleacher sitting next to your dad or your son you can feel the legacy pass on, the opportunity to reflect on the actions of an athlete without being assault by a chorus line of overweight men with letters crudely written on their stomachs. The difference between baseball and football is similar to watching the Olympics of the Greeks to the Gladiatorial contest of the Romans.
There is change coming though, a big change. Football as we know it is dying. Parents are becoming aware that concussions and CTE, chronic traumatic encephalopathy are common place in the playing of this sport. Boston University just conducted a study with the brains of 111 deceased NFL players. Of the 111 brains they studied, 110 suffered CTE, a condition which causes depression, psychosis, dementia memory loss and death.
Aaron Hernandez was an American football tight end in the National Football League (NFL). A productive player during his three seasons with the New England Patriots, his career came to an abrupt end after his arrest and initial conviction for the murder of Odin Lloyd.. He was found dead in his jail cell as a result of suicide. It was released this week that Hernandez had CTE Stage 3, (with Stage 4 being the most severe). At the time, Hernandez’s attorney, Jose Baez, announced the filing of a lawsuit against the National Football League and the New England Patriots, alleging that they “failed to disclose, treat or protect” against the dangers of repetitive injuries to the former tight end’s brain.
The number of high school football players dropped by 25,901 participants in 2016-17, according to a report by National Federation of State High School Associations.
The cool green fields await, fully knowing that they day where America needed them again was soon to be on the horizon, a resurrection of a tradition and a legacy. After the fog and the pollution clears, America will again discover itself and take pride again not in puffery or bravado but in cool green grass, dewy fields, personal accomplishment and that symphonic crack of the bat.
FROM FIELD OF DREAMS
Terence Mann: Ray, people will come Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won’t mind if you look around, you’ll say. It’s only $20 per person. They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they’ll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh… people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.
Movies are undergoing a similar change, there are hordes of folks just waiting to for the movie going experience they had. America is hungry for it. While the major exhibitors can be equated to football there is something quietly growing underneath the noise. Movies are are about to reborn on the independent screen, on drive-in screens across this country. It is the rising of the small and the genuine.
Mark my words, if you build it they will come. Please check out https://www.historicartcrafttheatre.org