A well made documentary fascinates me, so I relish the ones from Ken Burns. I just spent a lot of my weekend with “Baseball” (again) which brings me to the second in my series of Monday Rants. This one is gentle, really, so we can all relax.
I love to listen to baseball stories from fans who love the game. The emotions, surrounding details, and rich past of this game encompass much of American history, exciting, happy, sometimes sad. This documentary series is one of the greats.
Of course, there is a rub. I can’t sit through an actual baseball game. As a young teen, I tried to watch a couple on TV with my brother, but he stopped letting me ask questions during the first. (I wrote a story back then about why, which used to be pretty famous for inciting laughter around my house — maybe I should go dig that out and see if it’s any good.) My brother thought I could pick up any particulars I didn’t understand by just watching. Trouble was, any time I watched nothing much happened. Baseball games made my eyelids heavy and caused my head to loll back. Nothing about watching a real game from the beginning made me feel anything but startled that reality could actually move in slow motion. I’d thought that only happened in films.
If you tell me about the players and give me the story that explains how a certain play can change things, baseball becomes wonderful for me like rock and roll, like writing a one hundred word story, almost like cupcakes. Without that, it drives me nuts.
Now before baseball-lovers light into me, I have to say how much I love baseball stories and movies. When the undercurrents are illuminated, I get it and tingle with excitement like any other fan. Without the backstory, I feel like I’m watching a French movie about dinner conversation, without subtitles.
I get misty about some of the stories and archival film in The Ken Burns documentary, and I see the poetry of baseball in movies from “The Bad News Bears” to “The Natural.” I just can’t sit through an actual game.
Before I started writing this, I considered what it might be like to watch paint dry. Thoughts like these came to mind: “Watching paint dry is weird. Look at it. Amazing how that sheen of the wet paint will turn into a matte surface. The color will change a bit, too. Sometimes the color’s lighter when it’s dry. And that smell… is that the VOC’s? It’s good you can buy paint these days with little or none of that awful stuff in it. Amazing how a different color can do so much to brighten up a room and …” Well, you get the point. When I try to watch baseball on TV, it elicits thoughts like these: “Zzzzzzzzzzzzz…”
Ken Burns’ documentary indirectly addresses my boredom when it says how the fans’ hunger for spectacular plays and amazing feats has driven some players to push their abilities with performance-enhancing drugs. Though that’s a personal decision a player makes, I hung my head just a little as if I was being pointed at. But come on! This isn’t my fault.
I can sit through football any time even though I couldn’t explain a formation or identify a play if my life depended on it. I know when they’re running the ball or passing, which down it is and how many yards to go. I don’t seek football out anymore, but I get it and I enjoy it. Yet somehow this feels embarrassing considering my thoughts on violence and George Carlin’s stellar routine explaining the differences between baseball and football. But come on! You’ll find bad language, unkind epithets and even fights breaking out sometimes at baseball games, so it can’t be that I have a latent violent streak.
People have told me that I need to see a baseball game in person, but I’ve resisted attempts to get me to go out to the park because I’d be trapped there. What if it turned out to be the same for me as trying to follow the game on television?! Baseball games are lonnnnng. For me, it would be like being held hostage.
So there it is. I’ve given up trying to watch a whole game. Does it really matter? Ken Burns compiled the thrills and stuff that make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. And I enjoyed it just as much as I did the recent documentaries on Vince Lombardi and Broadway Joe. It’s all good.