Whenever my Italian friends lift their noses and sneer at
the lack of "art" in America, or my German friends
click their tongues derisively at the concept of American
"culture," I give my best John Wayne stare and defend
our art, our culture with one concise word: baseball.
Baseball remains a uniquely American art, a celebration of
folk culture if you will. A paean to the democratic ideal
of six-dollar-and-ninety-seven-cent entertainment. And at
no time am I better reminded of this truism than on Opening
Day at Dodger
Ah, traditions. Peanuts, crackerjacks, hot dogs, fans with
"L.A." tattooed cheeks, babies with blue booties,
foam fingers, rockets red glare (courtesy of Hollywood Fireworks),
F-18s flying in air, and, oh yes, the booing. Let's not forget
Certainly, the fans didn't forget at Dodger Stadium this
year. Well, yes, but it's part of the art--the tradition,
you see, to boo the other team. Perhaps it strikes our British
friends as uncouth in a game derived from Cricket. But after
all, we don't generally riot at baseball games as they've
been known to do at soccer matches. We just do the wave. Unless
someone touches our beer or our hat and we're playing Chicago
or New York.
But now we're playing Arizona. Doves fly peacefully overhead
before the game. Surely a good sign? Then again, perhaps just
a reminder that Randy "Dove-Killer" Johnson's pitching
Speaking of pitchers, that's a major part of the artistry
right there. Brush-back, spitter, bean-ball, why there's a
whole array of styles. Last year, Dodger starter, Chan Ho
Park, added the flying leap to his arsenal, but I suspect
that this mode may soon be as passé as Dadaism. Not
many people can manage the high-kick, pirouette action needed.
But other traditions live on. Sure we boo Arizona; today's
the season opener. Game one. We've got to warm up for the
Giants next week. Still, etiquette prevails. Boyish charm
in the opposition will be rewarded. Through codes as unwritten
and intricate as any European Regency court dance, unexpected
Such as pre-game underdog, number-double-zero for the D'Backs:
Curtis Leskanic. For a brief moment, he countermands the boos
and wins over the crowd with an endearing grin and a "Oh,
c'mon," mouthed for Diamond Vision. The fans cheer. A
warm moment ensues. At that moment, the expected ritual dance
of pre-announcements at Dodger Stadium becomes free-form performance
art or perhaps a Disney movie.
Cast as the leads? Pick your stars. Local radio announcer,
Lon Landis, found his favorite before the game, declaring,
"The Dodgers, proving that money is no object, brought
in a big name talent: Barry Manilow." Art, after all,
is an acquired taste.
But while Curt Leskanic had his fifteen minutes, or perhaps
fifteen seconds, of fame, undoubtedly the man of the moment
was none other than "Left Fielder, Number 10: Gary Sheffield."
Oh, don't let all those boos fool you; it's just part of the
unfolding drama. Sure, he mentioned in pre-season contract
negotiations that all his teammates were useless, and the
team would be nothing without him. But the fans? We weren't
fooled. Sure, we booed him a bit. All right. A lot.
But when Sheffield made a run-saving catch early in the game
and followed up with the game winning home run, we were willing
to chant: "Ga-ry! Ga-ry!" A fan behind me muttered
something to his girlfriend about Sheffield representing,
"Everything that is the worst in baseball." Certainly
nothing could be farther from the truth. Zero to Hero: Isn't
that what American art is all about?
Gary Sheffield epitomizes the art of Americana. While charm
is endearing, success is even better. "Winning isn't
everything; it's the only thing, " declared American
Heartland hero, Vince Lombardi. Sure enough. Just look at
the Persian Gulf War, at the opening of the American West,
at Hiroshima. We don't always know high art, but we know what
we like. Americans like winners. The French may claim to have
better fashion, the Germans better philosophers, and the British
better decorum, but true Americans know that success equals
the best art of all.
So go ahead, German friends, Russian friends, French friends--Europeans
all. Go ahead and sneer at our cultural shortcomings. In return,
I give you traditions, our freedoms, our heritage, our ninety
feet from base to base, our umpires, our hot dogs, our Budweiser,
our big screen instant replays, our cowboy hats, our painted
faces, our two-octave national anthem, our booing, our prima
donnas, our bad boys, our free agents yearning to make millions,
My friends, I give you American art. I give you baseball.