Tuesday, April 20, 2010

TL;DNR (Baseball games)

Baseball, America’s supposed national pastime, represents a pastoral tradition in America that, if it ever existed, is long since dead, though at whose hands one cannot readily tell. A sport beloved by a particular rarified middle class impossibly distant from the very agrarian nature that the pleasant greenery represented by the baseball diamond ostensibly represents. Baseball, a game contextualized as the peaceful relaxed pleasantry of a nation that is not peaceful, relaxed, or frankly pleasant. As re-focused once again through the Nintendo.

Components of the experiment: One bottle of Graham Beck 2004 Shiraz. A total of 10 baseball NES games. A laptop with blogger.com opened. A desire to journey into the very heart of the nature of America. This is Gonzo territory. I mean this not so much in the Muppet sense as the Hunter S. Thompson sense. Baseball video games must be the very essence of America in the 1980s. This is definitionally true - it cannot help but be true. They are the contact point between the bloating technocracy of Ronald Reagan and Japan (which are conceptually the same thing) and the pastoral tradition that they did not so much destroy as rape and leave for dead on the side of a dusty road marked "Beware the Southern Strategy." There is a reason that, in Bad Dudes, I must rescue the President from ninjas - it is not the non sequitur it appears. Both Pirates and Ninjas were part of the same technocratic hegemony.

There is something to the fact that the United States have the single most sedentary sport as a national pastime of anyone. South of us is the bracing fluidity of soccer. North is the bracing brutality of hockey. The only possible contender for a lazier sport than baseball is cricket (which is, I should note, not the national sport of England - that would be soccer. As with most places). Two things of note here. 1) Cricket is still more hardcore than baseball, because nobody fucking understands the rules, and matches last for days. Never mind baseball's "extra innings as long as it takes" mentality, culminating in a puny 8 hour 25-inning game. Cricket fucking begins at 18 hours. Take that, whores. 2) Cricket is the national sport of India and Pakistan. Fucking standing outside for 6 fucking hours a day there is harder core than anything that has ever happened at Wrigley Fucking Field.

Add to this irony that baseball identifies as a national pastime despite the fact that it's not. At all. It is not a sufficiently popular sport. It is not the most popular sport in the country. It is a national pastime only in the sense of myopic hubris - the same sort of hubris that results in us declaring a competition in which only one team from outside of the United States competes the "world series." And, of course, we studiously avoid actually playing the rest of the world in baseball, in no small part because Japan and Cuba would kick our fucking asses to the curb like we were England playing any sport they invented.

There is more of a case to be made that playing video games is our national pastime. But like England our invention of this activity has long since been surpassed. Japanese companies have been outdoing us at video games since, well, the NES. And even before that, in a strange feat of anticipatory mourning, the best-selling video game system was an American system named to sound Japanese. Video games have always been turning Japanese, I think. So?

So the usurping of our identity - the usurping of baseball games into the electronic sphere - is, what? The destruction of American identity? The final desecration of the pastoral, overwritten with the urban electronic. No. Not overwritten. Appropriated, in the manner of the urban park. The Presidential pitch - always a weak simulacrum of the reality.

An apt word, simulacrum. Or weak. The baseball games are marked by one crucial problem - they are all the exact same game, and they all suck. Batting is a matter of a cheap timing game. Fielding is a matter of running awkward slow people around a big field while the computer does disproportionately well. It's tedious repetition. Baseball is not made for video games, nor even for consumption. Consumption belongs to the technocrats of the city.

But of course, so does baseball. It is not the pastoral. Never has been. Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, Camden Yards. These are not rolling pastoral fields. They are titans of steel and brick hewn into cities. The pastoral tradition has always been exploited by the very urban tradition it ostensibly sits opposed to. This is the heart of American politics, as John Stewart so aptly observed when he noted that, curiously, it was the parts of America that were actually attacked by terrorists that were most opposed to the Bush administration's strategy to deal with said terrorists. Baseball is not of the pastoral tradition, but rather a vapid perform

ance of pastoralism, captured, in this sense, perfectly by the video game with its narcotic dullness

substituting for fun.

But there is perhaps a third way to navigate these waters. The way promised by Base Wars. What better way to grapple with the technocratic encroachment on the illusory realm of the pastoral than having giant robots shoot baseball cannons at each other. This is, in its own way, the epitome of video game logic. As T approaches infinity, all things will become giant robots. And be no more interesting for it.

Take me out to the ball game. I want to be in that forgotten, illusory pastoral land. I want to stare up at the sky, tracing the arc of a long fly ball, and as it disappears into the sun for a moment. And when it returns, the giant robot invaders will descend with it.


  1. It's also absolutely the origin story of baseball. It's always pretended to be a pastoral game, one born in upstate New York in a bucolic hamlet known as Cooperstown, and codified by returning war hero Abner Doubleday (and - oh - what a glorious cornfield of a name that is!) And yet... Nope. Turns out it kind of evolved from Rounders, a British variant on cricket, and if anyone actually invented it, it was a Manhattanite bookworm named Alexander Cartwright. The first real teams were upper crust urban types. And there's some evidence the game might have been invented in 18th century Canada, which wasn't just non-American, it was where the Torys were hanging out!