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Baseball's infusion of America runs deep
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Tuesday, August 29, 2023
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Baseball’s infusion of America runs deep
Baseball. America's pastime. Whether you played or whiffed in t-ball, most Americans are familiar with the sport of baseball. Baseball's language is part of how we speak: home run, strike out, made it to third base. For those who make a living at it, the minimum salary is $720,000. Professionals play a dang long season; Major League teams play 162 games and playoff series culminating with a final best of seven World Series in October. Baseball has permeated deeper than just the way we talk. Americans may even use a baseball to measure size and the sport has its own relationship to American politics, too.
What does the usage of baseball terminology look like in some of our nation's periodicals? Media archives help shine a light on baseball's place in American language and culture. Writers make references to baseball all the time. Mother Jones, for example, is not The Sporting News. Mother Jones readers are more likely to inquire into the sociology of climate change, Trump or the abuses of corporations than a stick and ball sport like baseball. Mother Jones in April published a piece by Marianne Szegedy-Maszák called "Here’s How Climate Change Is Making It Easier To Hit Home Runs.” Szegedy-Maszák wrote that "....each degree of warming is associated with 95 more home runs per season.” San Francisco Giants fans would be familiar with a popular narrative that baseballs travel farther in the dry high altitude climate of Denver compared to a ballpark at sea level.
Hard to fathom, yet one baseball book generated controversy in Florida. "In Duval County (Florida) a biography of Puerto Rican baseball legend Roberto Clemente and 178 other titles meant to increase diversity of writers, characters, topics and viewpoints were held for review before hitting shelves," Isabella Davis wrote in Mother Jones. A book about a famed baseball player ignited scrutiny, but so is life in a state governed by Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis. In addition, Mother Jones reported that Major League Baseball “gave $7,000 to two members who voted to throw out the election results after the riot—Reps. Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.)—and another $15,000 to the NRCC.”
Politics aside, references to baseball, both the ball and the equipment, extend into two other publications sampled. Smithsonian and Mother Earth News. Smithsonian articles viewed in a database showed references to baseball that vary from pseudoscientific; "sphere of plutonium no larger than a baseball," to a description of a rhinoceros: "her ears were erect; the skin behind them was soft as an ancient and well-oiled baseball mitt." In another, a writer described a biologist in Madagascar who stooped “to pick up the empty baseball-size shell of a land snail."
Mother Earth News, a magazine whose writers articulate such matters of interest as how to start a firewood business or how to grow vegetables in winter. When it comes to threshing barley from your own small farm, the chore may involve use of a baseball bat. At a certain point in the threshing process the barley farmer would "...beat the pillowcase with a baseball bat or a large, soft mallet." Renée Benoit may have stated it best in an article for Mother Earth about selling out in California and moving to Arizona on a limited income. "Be patient," Benoit wrote, "It is like baseball. Just keep stepping up to the plate. You might get a fly ball, strike or a walk but eventually you'll hit a homerun."
So baseball’s lingo would not only be the territory of sports talk radio or people who identify as a baseball fan. Baseball’s infusion of American culture and language runs deep. Baseball served as a lens to which scientists discussed climate change. Writers used the sport as a well from which descriptive details can be drawn. America’s familiarity with baseball provided a source of common objects that can be substituted for measurements of size. And nobody should be shocked that MLB donates money to politicians.