Baseball, Sports Help Track Seasons of Life

Technically, it's already spring. But some people think it's not official until the sunshine, the hot dogs and the crack of the bat of baseball's opening day.

"There's a sense of rebirth of the spirit as well as rebirth of the land," said Edward J. Rielly, author of "Baseball: An Encyclopedia of Popular Culture."

"When you use the term 'opening day' with most people in the United States, they know what you're talking about," said Christopher Hodge Evans, co-author of "The Faith of 50 Million: Baseball, Religion and American Culture." "It symbolizes hope … it's the sense of starting over, but it's [also] the sense of continuity with the past."

The Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees played the first game of the Major League Baseball season Sunday night. But for most teams, opening day is today. Michelle Donnelon, manager at Logo's Sports Bar & Grill in Blue Ash, Ohio, has standing-room tickets to today's Mets-Reds game in Cincinnati.

"I really enjoy the prospect of going to opening day, the whole fanfare of it -- it's just majestic," she said. "When you go to opening day, it just lifts your spirits up for the whole year."

Sports are more than just games, scholars say. Often, they help frame people's lives, and not just in North America (see related story). Whether fans or not, Americans often mark spring and summer, and bond with their families, via baseball -- just as some do with football, basketball and hockey (the current strike notwithstanding) at other times of the year.

'We Know Who's Won'

Sports capture people's imaginations because they fill a unique role as entertainment, according to Michael Mandelbaum, author of "The Meaning of Sports: Why Americans Watch Baseball, Football, and Basketball and What They See When They Do."

Unlike movies and plays, sports offer the suspense of an unscripted outcome, and the authenticity of genuine accomplishment rather than dramatic re-enactments, Mandelbaum said. And unlike real life, they feature clear rules, boundaries and outcomes.

"Life increasingly does not have … coherence," Mandelbaum said. "Games have a beginning, a middle and an end. And at the end of a season, we know who's won."

Besides entertaining us, sports offer unique forums for personal expression, said Noel Dyck, who edited the anthology "Games, Sports and Cultures."

"There are things that you're able to do in sport that are not really possible in other aspects of life," said Dyck, a professor of social anthropology at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. "The way baseball players congratulate themselves after a home run, that's something that men normally are more careful about in public."

Sports also can foster expression off the field by easing conversation among friends and strangers alike.

Golden Ages

Some suggest sports may reflect evolution of a culture.

Mandelbaum theorizes that the three most-popular American team sports each had their "golden age" during different American eras, and they reflect the values of those eras.

Baseball is a "rural, agrarian, traditional sport, which harkens back to the past," and reflects the era of the 1920s to the 1950s, Mandelbaum said.

Football, on the other hand, "is the sport of factories and the machine age," with emphasis on brute force as well as skill, and glory days in the 1960s and 1970s, he added.

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