Boys of summer

When the crooked politicians and crazy evangelists have got you down, it's time to remember Dad and take yourself out to a ballgame.

Published August 16, 2006 9:45AM (EDT)

You wake up on a summer morning, the smell of possibility in the air, and you feel slim and gifted and innocent, and of course you should mow the lawn, but as Walt Whitman said, "What is the grass? It is the handkerchief of the Lord, a scented gift." And who would cut God's hanky? Not you. Time to set aside the petty drudgery of home maintenance and go off in search of the incomparable wonders of this world. Nebulae spiral in the sky thousands of centuries away, the Mississippi flows round the bend, ripe tomatoes hang on the vine, each one replete with astonishment and delight, and also there is baseball. Crowds hustling to the park, funneling through the turnstiles, the yap of the hucksters, the smell of bratwurst. Love can break your heart, but nobody was ever betrayed by a bratwurst.

Baseball is classic American. Every time you go to the game, you pay homage to your old man. He who lobbed the tennis ball so it bounced off your bat and gave you the thrill of success, who engaged in the patient, silent and intimate conversation of playing catch. I went to the ballgame the other day, and there, between innings in the men's can, a little boy of 4 or so stood at the urinal, firing uphill, his dad coaching him, and it was sweet to see, a kid's introduction to the ancient ritual. None of us is born smart, each of us needed basic tutoring from Dad. Shoe tying, nail pounding, hoeing, parallel parking and baseball. And now, years later, you sit and watch the game by heart and see the third baseman's heroic backhand stab of the sizzling grounder down the line (a sure triple!) and his long throw to catch the runner at first, and (involuntarily) you raise a fist and yell, "Yes!" -- it all goes back to your old man.

Seeing men compete at the height of their ability is pure inspiration these days, politics having turned so cheesy. What you thought of as civics turns out to be a basic service industry, like bartending but without the jokes. Politics today is about money. Abramoff was the rule, not the exception. The cultural issues, the Christian values, they are pure camouflage, and so is national security. Congress is mostly about serving its clients, who are not you or me, and now this gang of misfits, nitwits and yahoos is hoping that the arrest by British police of a band of terrorists might enable Rep. Blimp and Sen. Foghorn to play the security card once more. There is no limit to their brazenness. They would swipe your wallet and then return it for the reward. Lord, have mercy.

People yearn for candidates who speak with conviction to the middle, who speak to what unites us, which is a miracle in this fractious nation. The mega-Baptists look down on the mini-Anglicans, the websters smirk at us print writers, Westerners nurse a fine loathing for the East Coast, the rappers exercise an extravagant contempt for almost everybody. Men and women are wired differently, as I found out when I tried to introduce my little girl to Laurel and Hardy the other day. Each poke in the snoot and bonk on the head with a frying pan, the pratfall into the fountain, the collision with a ladder: She winced at the violence of it, and when Ollie whacked Stan upside the head and he stood and whimpered, she said, "Not funny."

The skeptics hear the bells Sunday morning and imagine the devout are moved by mindless superstition. Meanwhile, the devout assume the non-devout are indolent narcissists. We are ships in the night, islands in the sea of life, and seldom do our peripheries touch, as my aunt Eleanor used to say. But we meet in certain places, such as here at the ballpark, and that is good, especially if we can keep our mouths shut.

Two teams battle it out through eight innings of tight defensive baseball, before the game suddenly splits open in the bottom of the ninth, a scratch single, a wild pitch, a sacrifice fly to deep right, a ground ball deep to the shortstop's left, the run dashes home, and we are victors. But only for today. We are none of us heroes for long. The winning team doesn't dance around with index fingers in the air. They line up and give each other the high knuckle and walk to the dressing room. So long, see you tomorrow.

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(Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" can be heard Saturday nights on public radio stations across the country.)

© 2006 by Garrison Keillor. All rights reserved. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.

By Garrison Keillor

Garrison Keillor is the author of the Lake Wobegon novel "Liberty" (Viking) and the creator and host of the nationally syndicated radio show "A Prairie Home Companion," broadcast on more than 500 public radio stations nationwide. For more columns by Keillor, visit his column archive.

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