As we sit on the precipice of spring, some of us are dreaming to once again to encounter the salty smell of peanuts and devour deliciously greasy mustard-covered brats. Yes, it’s that time again: baseball. I’m writing this in the midst of our beloved Major League Baseball team‘s pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training at their various warm, blue-skied and palm tree covered facilities. Here in Kansas and the rest of the Midwest, we get to report to our classes or farm in the bipolar weather that one morning may be 11 below but a balmy 40 by three in the afternoon. Regardless of the weather, life will go on in the America’s Heartland, just like it will for America’s Pastime.
So if one is to make the astounding claim that nothing, not even Mother Nature, can stop a fastball from flying or farmer from feeding his stock, could there be more that exists between baseball and farming? The answer is yes.
“The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer…and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you in the fall alone.” (Vaught). Taken from The Farmers’ Game, and spoken by former baseball commissioner and Yale University president A. Bartlett Giamatti, this quote rings true to the game and its pastoral qualities and the resemblance it shares with the farming season. We can not only draw these comparisons from time but also culture, expansion and growth of the United States.
During the 1800’s many America’s saw moving West as opportunity; Manifest Destiny if you will. Whether it was a coast-to-coast move or simply beyond their state’s border, numerous Americans grasped at the chance to better the lives of themselves and families. These settlers then cleared and farmed the land that they conquered, inherently transforming a large percent the American landscape into grain fields and livestock pastures. The early 1800s to antebellum period was fittingly “the farmer age”. And all the while, “…residents, farmers and townspeople alike, experienced the great economic and social trends of the early American republic…” (Vaught). Dealing with market revolutions, religious upheavals and rise of a new middle class and other relevant affairs of the period, like maybe the Civil War and emancipation of the slaves for example, folks looked to ball-playing as a way to cope with the burgeoning country.
“The Heater from Van Meter” aka “Bullet Bob” aka “Rapid Robert” are some of the nicknames for Cooperstown staple and Cleveland Indians pitcher, Robert William Andrew Feller. Inducted into the Hall of Fame upon his first year of eligibility in 1962 (Wikipedia), Feller symbolizes the baseball and farming relationship superbly. He’s quoted with saying, “My father kept me busy from dawn to dusk when I was a kid. When I wasn’t pitching hay, hauling corn or running a tractor, I was heaving a baseball into his mitt behind the barn…” (Murphy) and “What kid wouldn’t enjoy the life I led in Iowa? Baseball and farming, and I had the best of both worlds,” (Wikipedia). Each of his passions fed off one another. In his early teens, Bob was working on the family farm but also shaping his baseball career. Albeit his father and uncle’s sports’ careers never took due to commitments with the farm, it was their mission to incorporate Hardball after each day’s chores. (Vaught) We can all relate in that balancing our commitments is difficult but oh so worth it in the end and that our families will ultimately shape the person we will become in life.
So as I sit here biting my nails in anticipation, refreshing the MLB on all avenues of social media and happily crossing days off the calendar leading to Opening Day, I know that America’s Game will return in a month’s time. I also know, as do you I’m sure, that local, fresh fruit and vegetables will return and foals or kids will resume frolicking in lush pastures that were constructed over a century ago by the same man who was on the edge of his seat waiting to hear the melodious “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” like I am now. A baseball and glove are leather after all, and we all know where that comes from.
Vaught, David. (2013). The Farmers’ Game: Baseball in Rural America.
Murphy, Joe. “Learning from a legend.” Farm Fresh blog. Iowa Farm Bureau. 2010. 2014.