The Voice of the Turtle
By no stretch of the imagination am I a religious person, but this verse from the Song of Songs (2:11-2:12) has always held special meaning for me:
For, lo, the winter is past,
The rain is over and gone;
The flowers appear on the earth;
The time of the singing of the birds is come,
And the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.
Ernie Harwell would usher in each new spring by reciting this passage on Opening Day. It signified the end of winter, and the welcoming of renewed hope and enthusiasm about what the new spring would bring to our lives, our communities, and yes, our ball club.
It’s the only bible verse not featured in Pulp Fiction that I’ve ever bothered to memorize.
My earliest memories are of baseball. More specifically, they’re of sitting on my grandparents’ back porch, listening to radio broadcasts of the Detroit Tigers with my grandfather. We’d sit in silence as Ernie Harwell’s distinguished voice painted the most vivid images of what was unfolding on the field. During the commercial breaks, or when the Tigers were having their asses handed to them (which happened a lot back then), my grandfather would tell me stories of his youth. He’d tell me about his time in the Navy, or share embarrassing stories of my mother from when she was a kid. I don’t remember most of his stories anymore, but I remember that I loved hearing them.
Baseball is my uncle taking me to my first ballgame, and my being able to recall every moment of that night. It was August 9th, 1994, and my beloved Detroit Tigers were hosting the Milwaukee Brewers. I still remember being in awe of just how impossibly green the outfield grass was, and how I was nearly overwhelmed by the smells of hot dogs, popcorn, and nacho cheese. I remember Cecil Fielder hitting a home run in the 6th inning that was so mammoth that I’m still not entirely convinced the ball has landed yet. I also remember eating entirely too much ballpark food and feeling sick for the entire hour-plus drive home.
It was totally worth it.
For me, baseball is more than a game. It’s family. It’s history. It’s the common thread that connects me to those things. It’s sitting on the porch on a warm summer night, listening to the Tigers while sipping a glass of lemonade and watching the sky erupt in a brilliant red and yellow inferno as the sun dips below the tree line. It’s playing pick-up games with the other kids in my neighborhood on the makeshift diamond that the father of one of the other kids mowed in the field that ran between all our houses. It’s sitting at my grandfather’s grave every Sunday for years after he died, reading him the box scores from the week’s past games.
Baseball is a lot like life. It’s a day-to-day existence, full of ups and downs. You make the most of your opportunities in baseball as you do in life.
Baseball is the value of having a strong work ethic. It’s the importance of attacking each and every day with everything that you have to give – even on days when you don’t have much to give. It’s understanding that failure is a part of life, and that the true value of failure is in the lessons that it can impart. It’s understanding the importance of persistence in the shadow of defeat, and humility when under the glaring spotlight of success.
It’s teamwork, and camaraderie, and lifting each other up, and understanding that no matter how great we may be as individuals, we are only as strong as the people we have around us. It’s about rising to the challenge of each game, each day, and playing as hard as we can until the final inning is in the books. It’s true in baseball as it is in life.
Baseball, in this day and age, is arguably more American than America itself. It’s the shining example of American idealism, a melting pot of people and cultures from all corners of the globe, all competing with and against each other in a quest to claim the title “world champion.” It’s a game in which everyone has their moment, and everyone gets a turn. It is, as Ernie Harwell famously said, where “democracy shines its brightest.”
Finally, baseball is quite simply the greatest game ever invented. It’s simultaneously rooted in its past while looking towards the future. It’s a game that is played by both children and adults, enjoyed in billion-dollar stadiums and abandoned parking lots. It’s design and dimensions are perfect. If you were to move first base by a single foot, or the pitcher’s mound by even a single inch, you would disrupt the delicate balance that makes the whole thing work.
Of course, some people consider baseball “boring.” When you look at the game on its surface, you’d be hard-pressed to disagree. However, when you look just a little bit deeper you begin to see the nuances and intricacies that come with each inning, each at bat, each pitch. It’s in these moments that the true brilliance of the game is on display. From the moment that a batter steps up to the plate, he and the pitcher are engaged in a battle of wits. The batter may know that this pitcher will throw a belt-high outside fastball when they fall behind in the count. The pitcher, likewise, may know that this particular batter may shorten their swing when they have two strikes against them so they’ll “waste” a pitch, throwing a fastball in the dirt to try and lull the hitter into a false sense of security, making them expect another fastball before throwing a curve ball that’ll buckle their knees and send them back to the dugout with their heads hung low. This is to say nothing of the subtle defensive shifts that happen throughout the game, repositioning themselves in anticipation of where a particular batter may hit the ball, should they be lucky enough to make contact.
In baseball, you can’t kill the clock. You’ve got to give the other man his chance. That’s why this is the greatest game.
This is what makes baseball so pure, so fair. It doesn’t matter how big or strong or fast you are. If you cannot conquer the mental battles that come with each game, you’ll never cut the mustard.
But you’ll have your chance. In the end, that’s all any of us can ask for.