Monday, March 20, 2006

Where Have You Gone, Joe DiMaggio?

I just watched Peter Gammons do his dead level best to convince the watching audience of the first ever World Baseball Classic championship Game that baseball was still America's pastime. Looking like a solitary black exclamation point scrawled amongst a sea of colorful scribbles, Gammons reported from within the ranks of rabid Japanese and Cuban fans while arguing, down a somewhat meandering path, that America's cultural values have been clearly exhibited along the base paths these past few weeks. Only in America, Gammons claimed, with our cherished values of diversity and freedom, could such a baseball spectacle take place. One can't help but wonder whether this argument ever would have seen the light of day had the hulking giants of American baseball not been thoroughly thrashed by team after team of Louisville wielding Davids.

Surely, the foundations of Gammons' argument were laid months ago when the United States government suddenly informed Major League Baseball that the Cuban team would not be allowed to compete in the inaugural WBC as its participation would constitute a violation of the ridiculous and out-dated embargo our nation has insisted on maintaining. Rarely do such cosmically divine opportunities for vengeful karma go unfulfilled, and the US team's quick exit and lackluster performances, coupled with a championship matchup which pitted Cuba against Japan, seems to pay the karma bill quite well.

Gammons' argument was nothing more than a desperate attempt to defend the national ego and give American baseball fans an excuse that took the sting out of the righteous beatings our team endured. We could not create a victory on the diamond so we have claimed the diamond's creation as our transcendent victory. As young, enthusiastic Cuban and Japanese ball players battled it out in San Diego, American baseball culture was left in displaced limbo, its traditional Rockwellian baseball values of pluck, hard work, humility, perserverance, and patriotism; values that smell of stale playing card bubble gum, sunflower seeds, cut grass, and leather, supremely demonstrated by the new ambassadors of the game.

Baseball is still a reflection of American cultural values, just not the values our national memory or Gammons would like to concede. Those bygone values, the ones that make our fathers teary-eyed, have been firmly exiled to a vacant lot in the Dominican Republic; a parking lot in Korea; a cane field in Cuba . . .