I have always been a big sports fan. I got that from my dad, saw it in my grandfathers, and found it in all my friends. Now I’m passing it on to my sons. Chicago-born, I’ve been a lifelong Bears, Bulls, Blackhawks, and Sox fan. The rest of the extended DeYoung clan roots for the Cubs, but my dad had the good sense to switch loyalties with the Go-Go Sox of ’59, and now I’ll be a Sox fan for life. Likely my boys will be too, though they’ve grown up exclusively in Michigan and never lived a day in Illinois. I feel for them, taking the same road I did: living in Michigan and rooting for Chicago. I hated the Bad Boys, and my sons are learning to be righteously annoyed with the Tigers. Enmity is unspiritual in the rest of life, but not in sports. It’s a sign of respect reserved for perennial powerhouses. Nobody hates the Jacksonville Jaguars.

This week marks the beginning of baseball, for 150 years, our national pastime. Football may be the king of revenue and ratings, March Madness may be the most enjoyable three weeks of sports, the NHL may be the obsession north of the border, and the NBA may have bigger star power, but there is still no sport in this country better than baseball. I will never forget the ’85 Bears or MJ and the Bulls during the 90s. It’s been fun to watch the Blackhawks tear it up this year, and the longer I live in East Lansing the more I bleed green and white. But if I had just one sporting event to watch in person sometime in my life it would be a World Series game with the White Sox. Preferably a Game Seven winner, but I don’t want to be picky.

I know the many knocks on baseball: The games are too slow. The season is too long. The contracts are too big. I know about steroids and strike-shortened seasons. I know the players chew and spit and adjust themselves too much. I know every pitcher except for Mark Buerhle takes too much time in between pitches. I know that purists hate the DH rule and almost everyone hates the Yankees. I understand if baseball is not your thing. You don’t have to like our national pastime.

But you should.

I’ve taken my older kids to basketball games and football games–terrific experiences. But it’s not like your first baseball game: the wide open and immaculately kept spaces of green, the sharp diamond perfectly groomed, the organ bellowing out a kitschy tune. People sing the national anthem louder at baseball games. The hot dogs are better too. At most parks you can find seats cheap enough for families. And when you’re there, you’ll see an old man sitting by himself with a scorecard, just like he’s done for 40 years.

Baseball is unique in the pantheon of professional American sports. It’s the only one where time doesn’t end your game. It’s the only one where offense and defense are totally compartmentalized. And it’s the only sport that actually works on radio. Have you ever tried listening to football on the radio. It’s better than nothing, but you can’t picture the action. You only get updates as the action unfolds. It’s the same with basketball and hockey. There’s a lot of energy, but it’s too much to see in your head. Baseball, on the other hand, is the perfect sport for radio. It’s slow and it’s routine. You can picture a backdoor slider in your head. You know what a sharp single to right looks like. You can see the ball sailing deep into center field in a way you could never see a run up the middle on radio.

I love football, but I love baseball more because it’s football’s complete opposite. It’s pastoral instead of militant. You can get your first chance at 27, instead of being finished at 26.  Every game doesn’t matter. The season stretches across three seasons instead of just one. Its pace is deliberate. The drama is subtle. The celebrations are understated. In football, every play is punctuated with some choreographed gesticulation. In baseball, the players honor the shortstop’s diving catch by throwing the ball to each other.

Baseball is the only sport where the players are not only doing things normal people can’t do nearly as well, they’re doing things normal people can’t do at all. I can make a basket. I can throw and catch a football. I can kick a soccer ball. I can’t hit Verlander’s fast ball (let alone his filthy curve). Baseball is more like real life where you fail more than you succeed. Two made shots a night in basketball means your terrible. Two hits per night in baseball makes you a legend.

Baseball has the best stats, the best trading cards, the best box scores, and the best announcers. Of the four major sports in America it’s the one with the smallest gap between the best teams and the worst teams. It’s the one where the regular season matters most. It’s the one sport that has the best season of the year all to itself. They’re not called the Boys of Summer for nothing.

Baseball lends itself to the best sports writing and the best sports movies. It has the richest history and the most romantic mythology. It’s the only sport that allows the fans the pleasure of seeing the umpires publicly berated. It has the most prestigious hall of fame. It has the most grueling minor leagues, where you can chase your dreams for ten years after school if you are willing to ride the bus. It has the best stadiums, where the dimensions are always different and the speed of the grass and the size of the foul territory determines the type of team you build.

More than any other sport, baseball is a companion. That’s why fans grow to love their announcers. For the past few years, I’ve listened to the majority of Sox games over the summer.  I don’t often listen or watch an entire game, and I certainly can’t catch all 162 of them. But if I’m driving or mowing the lawn , paying the bills, or puttzing around the house, I’ll find a way to tune in. And if they lose, it’s no big deal. It’s not like the BCS is on the line every game. The Sox can lose five in a row or stink up the place for two months and still end up on top. It’s a long season. It’s a slow season. It’s a game of strategy and finely-honed skill more than brute force and raw athleticism. It’s everything fans aren’t supposed to want in their sports anymore.

Which makes it just perfect.

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50 thoughts on “Our National Pastime”

  1. Jessica! says:

    Thanks for this article Kevin… I loved it, even as a Royals fan ;)

  2. Adam Ford says:

    I pray for you, Mr DeYoung, and your family, in the midst of your idolatry.

    I pray that you will repent and believe in the TIGERS!!!!!!!!!

  3. Jason says:

    Indeed, Adam. A great intercession is needed!


    But we do agree on green & white!

  4. Scott A. Treloar says:


    I absolutely agree with your assessment with one exception…


  5. Thank you for this post. Baseball is perfection.

    Did you ever read Marvin Olasky’s “Diamonds in the Shadowlands”? It’s probably the most perfect piece I’ve ever read on baseball. http://www.worldmag.com/2010/03/diamonds_in_the_shadowlands/page1

  6. Alex says:

    *This blog post was brought to you by Major League Baseball. :P

    Great post, truly. I even love listening to the Lugnuts on the radio and am always excited when I find a game is on.

  7. David B says:

    Thanks for the images and nostalgia this stirred up. Good writing.

  8. Daryl Little says:

    Even as a hockey-loving Canuck, I agree completely. It doesn’t get any better than baseball.

    Managed a family vacation to Florida this year, and caught a couple spring-training games. One with my wife and one with my 3 oldest boys.

    Funny thing. In the scorching sun of Dunedin, my 8 year old son started asking about the 2nd inning if we had to stay for the whole game, by the third we were hot and hotter and he thought he had enough. By the seventh, he started saying that the game hadn’t been as long as he expected and in the ninth he wondered if it was over “already”.

    And, as a Jays fan…I concur wholeheartedly with your Tiger-hate.

  9. Your Pentecostal Psychologist (Carter) says:

    Your “enmity” directed at sports teams other than your own seems to be the outgrowth of the repressed Satan-figure in your monotheistic theology which doesn’t allow for a full-orbed cosmic battle within your theological cosmology.

    Just saying.

  10. Adam Ford says:

    @Jason – this may be hard to believe, but I like U of M *and* State.

    I grew up right next door to A2, but attended State for one semester.


  11. Mark B. says:

    Another post that articulates why I enjoy and love baseball so much. How can somebody not be excited for the opening of baseball season? :) Go Cardinals!

  12. Brandon says:

    Right assessment; wrong Sox.

    Go Red Sox!

  13. Bryan says:

    I grew up in Minnesota and am a Twins fan. I too am a pastor in Michigan, and I can authoritatively say that the only thing worse than a Tigers fan is a White Sox fan. Sorry Kevin…

  14. bryce says:

    I was thinking about opening day and about the phrase, “National Pastime,” and decided that Baseball isn’t America’s national pastime. Idolatry is.

  15. Rick says:

    “It’s the one where the regular season matters most.”

    Good post, but wrong on that one. That title belongs to college football.

    The sad thing is that, as many have pointed out, baseball is becoming more and more of a regional sport. The leadership in baseball needs to fix that (and making the season longer is going in the wrong direction).

  16. ACF says:

    There is a certain rhythm to baseball that does make it the only good radio sport. The experience of being at a game is nice enough, but watching on TV becomes a bit boring and tedious. A few hours of standing around punctuated by occasional spurts of activity. It’s nice in the background, but not on the main stage for me.

    Of course, I’m a soccer guy (and they play in the summer in this country), and many people find that boring. To each his own.

  17. Will says:

    WOW… just wow.
    One of the most eloquent pieces about baseball I’ve read in a long time. It reminds of Frank DeFord.

    Well done!

  18. MJ says:

    Excellent, excellent article, and so true!!! (Even as a Yankees fan – but isn’t that the beauty of baseball, too, that we can agree that our sport is amazing no matter which team is playing?)

  19. David says:

    Great Article! Even the umpires enjoy all there is in baseball. Even if we are “publicly berated”. Kevin, keep up the good work!

  20. Jordan says:

    Thanks for writing the words I wish I had about the game I love. Great tribute to baseball – the best sport in the world!

  21. Mark says:

    YES. I’m glad you brought in the physical challenge of playing the game. It’s what keeps me coming back. Amazing to watch.

    I love baseball, even though I wandered in the wilderness of SF Giants fandom my whole life before finally being rewarded with a Series win — the second one was just pure bliss. Never will I take it for granted, because I know how heart-wrenching a loss can be (read 2002). I’m just happy to see that the Dodgers are becoming the West Coast Yankees pay-roll wise. Two series in three years and still, no one ever predicts a Giants win. Delicious.

  22. Shane says:

    “The season stretches across three seasons instead of just one. Its pace is deliberate.” Except for the NBA playoffs which seem to never end. Go Cards!

  23. Mike says:

    You’ve written so many great articles and yet somehow this one may be the best. I still remember the first baseball hat I ever purchased and the first game I ever attended. To this day I still get excited about going to the ball park.

  24. Josh says:

    I’ve never really enjoyed baseball, but this post makes me feel like I’m really missing something.

  25. andy says:

    ahh.. nothing beats having the windows open on a relaxing summer day with the radio on, listening to Todd Hamilton make a home run call as the Indians beat the White Sox again. #goTribe

    Hoping to take my son (who will be 2.5 yrs at the time) to his first baseball game this summer. Really looking forward to passing down the love of the game.

  26. Dan says:

    Having spent my entire life in Michigan or Minnesota, Kevin’s referral to radio-friendliness hits on something. All the other major sports center around cold-weather, couch potato seasons spent in front of a TV set. While baseball’s increased emphasis on night games pulls us in the same direction, it doesn’t have to. You can have your evening coffee on the deck and turn on a radio. Weekends of course (well, at least Saturdays without reservation!) are made for radio.

  27. Dan says:

    “The Sox can lose five in a row or stink up the place for two months and still end up on top.”

    Sounds like the 2012 Tigers who played .370 ball from mid-April to mid-June. Welcome to the AL Central!

  28. Patty says:

    I saw a few Tigers games in my younger years when I was growing up in MI, but having moved south my loyalties now lie with the Braves.
    Guess it’s time to check out the schedule and head down to Atlanta for a game!

  29. Dave says:

    Yes, it is the best. It is relaxed with intense moments. If you hear the crack of the bat, you can find the action in time. Thank you for the post.

  30. Noah says:

    Baseball also has the built-in self-sacrifice bunt game where it is better for a player to give up his AB for the good of the team. Of course you don’t get that in the AL (unless your team was managed by Joe Torre in the late 90s), and you don’t win the World Series without a few of those guys who are willing and eager to set the table for the big boys behind them.

    You’re totally right about your team losing a game and it not mattering much in the long run, especially when you’re a Royals fan like me. There have been so many losses over the years that the wins become that much sweeter when they do happen. And there’s always that hope that this year things will be different…

  31. Jeff says:

    Excellent Read – sure is a GREAT GAME

  32. Brent Johnson says:

    The only part i’d disagree on is saying you can do the other sports. You get hit by some of those 250lb linebackers at full speed and I bet you don’t get up.
    Great article though.

  33. Adam Embry says:

    Pretty good article. As long as the Twins are atop the ChiSox, all will be well for me in MLB.

  34. Tom Robbins says:

    I’m a Twins fan, which makes the White Sox part hard to handle, but more than that I’m a baseball fan. Thanks for a great perspective on a great sport. Go Twins!

  35. Bob says:

    Gee Kevin… I have a sudden hankering for a hot dog covered in onion, mustard and ketchup (or catsup)… I don’t know where that came from.

  36. John says:

    You didn’t just bash my beloved Jaguars, did you, Kevin? I used to like this site, but now, I’m not so sure…

  37. RebelEagle says:

    Down here in South Mississippi where I live, it’s SEC and Saints football 24/7, although high school and college baseball is bigger down here than in other places. Football may be my first love, but it doesn’t compare to the romanticism of baseball. I sure do miss watching Braves baseball on TBS, getting to see Ron Gant, Tom Glavine, and Fred “Crime Dog” McGriff in action while Skip Caray called the action. Memories!

  38. Great piece. Loved it and agree with it. As for radio and the game, it is why I like to bring a small radio to the game when I am at a game, if I go alone. Every year, around opening day, I write a short piece on baseball on my blog, much less thoroughly, for reasons you understand. Thank you again for the post.

    One last thing on failure and this game. I commented the other day, without forethought, that if I had anything to “do over” in this life it would be for the Texas Rangers to have gotten that final strike and out to win the World Series. My wife thought that was a little disordered in priority, and I agree it is, but it was a kind of honest expression of the lingering disappointment that old baseball fans have.

  39. Tony Felich says:

    Nice accents of the unique features of baseball. It’s a great game. You did out yourself about soccer, with not much of a mention. It’s quite a bit harder than you allude with your “I can kick a soccer ball” statement. Frankly, I like baseball because its the last game an out of shape fat man can still play at a high level. I have a better chance hitting a Verlander pitch ( eventually) than Cecil Fielder or CC Sabbathia has finishing 10 minutes on the soccer pitch- without even touching a ball. Yeah, baseball is definitely awesome though. Agree.

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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