7/18/13, "Why baseball is a metaphor for life in America,
" BBC, Simon Wilson
"US baseball players have
been taking some rare time off
this week. In a gruelling sport with at
least 162 games between April and September, the so-called All Star
break gives weary bodies a chance to rest. The BBC's outgoing Washington
Bureau Chief, Simon Wilson, who became a fan during his posting, says
the sport helped him grasp something about what makes America tick."
"Even living here in Washington DC, it is a
rare thing to see two US presidents together at the same time.
So imagine the excitement for my young daughters on a recent
family night out to watch our adopted Washington Nationals baseball
In between innings we are treated to the sight of no fewer than five previous presidents. And they are not making boring speeches or shaking hands.
They are chasing each other around the edge of the field like wild kids
on a playground break, pushing and tripping until one emerges
Now, of course, these are not the actual presidents
themselves, just giant bobble-headed mannequins depicting Messrs
Lincoln, Washington, Roosevelt, Jefferson and Taft.
It is all part of the slickly-packaged razzmatazz you get at an American sporting event.
At baseball, the crowds are constantly on the move - buying
beer, hot dogs and popcorn, except of course when they stand motionless
together, caps over their hearts, for a belting rendition of the Star
Spangled Banner or God Bless America.
On the surface, this is the America of my imagination - loud, proud and in your face.
But there is another, less obvious side to baseball that says perhaps even more about the country.
And the secret lies in the statistics.
Now, there are many, many, statistics in baseball. But the
single most astonishing one is that this is a professional sport where
the very best players in the world only actually hit the ball
successfully a third of the time
The other two thirds, they miss completely, are caught or
thrown out and face the long, humiliating walk back to the team dugout.
Now, imagine this in any other sporting context
- if two
times out of three David Beckham slipped on his backside as he ran up to
take a free kick.
Or if Andy Murray, serving a key point at Wimbledon, whiffed completely 66% of the time. It is unthinkable.
But this, I have come to realise over six years of intense
(and it has to be said the occasional pitch-side beer and hot dog)
is the key point about baseball.
As a sport, it is really all about failure. Or more precisely
how the players psychologically handle failure
- the fact that they are
going to miss the ball more often than they hit it.
And as I have sat in the stands over the years, I have begun
to realise just why there is such a rich tradition of treating baseball
as a metaphor for life in America.
This is indeed the land of opportunity where
children grow up being told what a "great job" they are doing and how
they might all be president one day. Which is all fine of course, except that for many, perhaps for most Americans, success never really comes.
For much of the half decade I have lived here, this country has been struggling economically.
All across the land, in previously well-off towns where half
the high street has now closed down
, you meet people fighting to make
It has also been arguable in recent times that America itself
is failing, losing prestige and influence around the world while new
powers such as China are on the rise.
But, just as their baseball players do, Americans are adept at picking themselves up when the market fails.
Economists have long admired the capacity of workers here to move
huge distances to wherever the jobs are, something that has made the US
economy so robust in the past.
And it does seem to be happening again, in remote places like
North Dakota where new energy discoveries are creating modern day boom
In Silicon Valley in California young computer entrepreneurs are actively encouraged to take risks - even to embrace failure. The theory is that in the fast-paced world of hi-tech they
will come back stronger, perhaps with the seed for the next Facebook,
Apple or Google. Failure - the theory goes - will breed the next success.
So, back at the baseball game, in what has been a disappointing season so far, Washington are once again losing.
It is late in the game and 20-year-old batting sensation Bryce Harper comes to the plate. One big hit from him and our team could be back in with a chance.
He swings... he misses - and starts that long walk of shame back to his teammates.
But tomorrow Harper, the rest of the baseball team,
millions of their fellow countrymen will dust themselves off, pick
themselves up - and start being American all over again."