Roach: The importance of baseball at this time of year

For nine innings, we all cheer as one

Brett Kavanaugh weeps for himself before the nation. Donald Trump declares a love affair with a brutal dictator. And it won’t stop raining.

To my way of thinking, that means we should talk baseball.

Specifically, the Milwaukee Brewers. Who, as this piece is being written, are filing into Wrigley Field to play the Cubbies for a division championship. No matter what follows, it has been a remarkable run for the team from the smallest city in baseball.

For some, our earliest sports memories are of the Milwaukee Braves teams of the late ’50s. They were Wisconsin champions well before Vince Lombardi unpacked his bags in Green Bay.

The 1957 Braves team was my first favorite team. They are burned into my memory for two reasons. First, they had a lineup that included Hall of Famers Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews and Warren Spahn. And secondly, they beat the damn Yankees to be World Series champs.

Back then a summer’s night was defined by the voices of the Braves announcers Blaine Walsh and Earl Gillespie wafting in the warm air and mixing with the fireflies, just as Bob Uecker’s voice does today.

Listening to those games with my dad made me feel, for the first time, like an adult.

Back then World Series games were the biggest act in sports. The Super Bowl did not exist.
World Series games were so important that grade-school teachers would wheel in the black and white TV just so you could watch Bob Gibson pitch.

After the Braves fled town, it was left to the Brewers to make memories for new generations of Wisconsin baseball fans. And they did, with Harvey’s Wallbangers of the summer of ’82, and the young Miller Park teams with Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder and Corey Hart.

And now another team, with new heroes Christian Yelich, Josh Hader and Jesus Aguilar, is forging new memories. Now there will be a new collective recall of their exploits when every pitch counts. For this is the time of year when the leaves turn, the nights get cool and folks talk easily to strangers about a full count curve as they gaze at the tavern television; when wives actually watch baseball with their husbands; when we all cheer or groan in unison.

Baseball at this time of year matters. And we are reminded of its difference. It can be savored more than football and basketball. It is more thoughtful. There is more pondering with each decision, and more decisions to be made. And yet, like lightning, the quiet and consideration can be interrupted with a lightning swing that becomes part of forever history.

This year’s Brewers team comes at an especially good time, because we are so politically fractured. With rancor filling our brains, there’s nothing like an upstart team to bring us together. As the Brewers walloped the Tigers in their last regular season game to advance to a division playoff, the cameras panned the stands. There were all sorts of folks of all political inclinations, and each of them happy. Together.

They were all celebrating a team with a wonderfully American mix: a hometown manager, white farm boys, black guys from Chicago and Latin players born on islands far away who know maybe a hundred words of English. And yet when the dinger clears the wall, they all hug, we all smile and everything feels right.

The patriotic theater of NFL games is cheesy because it’s more marketing than patriotism. But the anthem at a baseball game feels real and true. Americans have been singing that song as prelude to the first pitch more than a century before Fox News and MSNBC took to the air.

Also, more than other professional sports, baseball is accessible. Guys and girls go on dates to games. You see nuns in the stands. And more than any other pro sport, you see children at a game with their parents.

Sure, sometimes baseball can be boring. But not this week in this state.

As filmmaker Ken Burns told us, baseball’s history is our nation’s history. Abner Doubleday invented the game well before the Civil War. The game has endured economic depressions, two World Wars, Vietnam, Watergate and 9/11.

Though Americans may be angry or frightened, baseball has always been there to calm and unite us.

It reminds us that, at least for nine innings, we all cheer as one.

Madison-based television producer John Roach writes this column monthly. Reach him at johneroach@mac.com.