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After reading David B. Hart’s essay on baseball, A Perfect Game, in this month’s issue of FIRST THINGS, I soaked up his idyllic metaphors as I entered Target Field last night to see my beloved Twins take on the hapless Cleveland Indians. Beholding the wonder of the green diamond I was filled with immense gratitude for God’s provision in leading us out of the wilderness of the Metrodome to the promised land of outdoor baseball. No, perhaps it was better than that—like Eden on a sunny summer evening. 

Joe Mauer’s chiseled jaw stood tall and proud as the Star Spangled Banner was sung by a local barbershop quartet swelling my Minnesotan heart with pride. Unlike Cleveland’s former narcissistic superstar, our hometown hero is a humble and modest fellow who grew up on the unassuming streets of good ole’ St. Paul. Surely his angelic swing would not result in a 4-6-3 double play tonight! There was much to be thankful for and Hart’s mediations swept over me as if the perfect Platonic Forms were bleeding into the material world from the pitcher’s mound. 

And it did not take longer than five innings to be disabused of this frilly nonsense. 

One of the things that has always troubled me about the Platonic Forms is that they only seem to be invoked to explain beautiful things. Their changelessness, their perfection, their timelessness are naturally thought to comport with the beautiful.  Ugliness is thought to be a distinct feature of the finite world that fails conform to the perfection of the Forms. But it seems just as plausible to imagine Forms of horror, for they leave evidence of their ugliness that goes beyond the mere frailty of nature. Baseball seems to point to this reality. 

If Dante had known of baseball he would have included it in one of the many circles hell. Souls under the wrath of God would be subject to watching their home team get two quick outs and the away team drive in four straight runs off of a couple of walks and four singles. We might be tempted to say this somehow fits into the game’s greatness, but there is no evidence to support this banal notion when one observes how this tortured process comes about. 

Hart makes many references to the infinite as telling of baseball’s glory, but is he aware that it can be equally telling of its dread? Here is how it goes: Two outs, bottom of the fifth, first pitch, ball one, second pitch ball two, third pitch, ball three, meeting between catcher and pitcher, umpire resumes game, fourth pitch, foul ball, long pause between signals, fifth pitch, foul ball, sixth pitch foul ball, seventh pitch, foul ball, eighth pitch foul ball, ninth pitch foul ball, tenth pitch, single to right-center field. Repeat this process four times; add a walk or two in between. Beholding such monotony gives one a rotten sense of the infinite where hope for one last out comes to symbolize Kierkegaard’s notion of despair; wanting no longer to exist and not being able to do anything about it.   

Anyone who has had the displeasure of having to watch this will understand how a stadium can transform from an Edenic paradise to a little shop of horrors. The agony is felt by 40,000 people all at once. Not even listening to a speech by an inept politician can elicit such a unanimous reaction. What we are beholding is foul in all respects, the sheerest form of ugliness one can imagine in the realm of sports. It makes the blood cool and long for the oblong game played in the winter of Minnesota where the ice, wood, and fist prevail.

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