There is only one sound like this. A stick of white ash swung in a powerful arc by a man with powerful forearms collides with opposing force against a sphere of horsehide hurtling toward it at 90 mph. The trademark sound of a national sport.
Marching into the dark maze of walkways leading to the grandstand of a major league baseball park sets you up for one of the peak visions in American sports. The walk up a narrow ramp then POW! the impossibly immaculate emerald green of the playing field set off by the terracotta base paths with three marshmallow pillow bases. Perhaps it’s the scale of seeing the whole shebang - seats, field, walls, lights - with one glance. Or the simplicity about it, grass and dirt, blue sky overhead for day games, dusk settling in for night games. If you’ve only watched the sport on TV, you’re unprepared for the scale of splendor in this grass.
The two team managers meet with umpires at home plate to hand in their lineup cards, the national anthem is played, defensive players jog to their positions, fans cheer. The grand old game begins, an American ballet, soap opera, and occasional roller derby all wrapped into one. The game is an extraordinary mix of deliberate acts laced with moments of blinding speed and physical skill. Over the next two or three hours we will cheer, gasp, groan, clap, chat amiably with people we’ve never seen before - and perhaps have nothing in common except that we are here together. And would never choose to speak with on the outside world.
The cement beneath the seats will become littered with peanut shells, beer cups, and hotdog wrappers. Every so often a really big smmaack resonates through the stadium when a batter connects the sweet spot of his bat with the incoming pitch. The crowd erupts in a reflexive roar.
Assembled around you are more people that live in some small towns in America. Rush Limbaugh followers, NPR devotees, atheists, god fearing people, vegetarians, tree huggers, teamsters, and none of them at this moment with an ax to grind. Except maybe why the manager leaves a pitcher in the game too long or why he doesn’t pinch hit for a certain batter.
And in a spring training game in Florida’s Grapefruit league, even that doesn’t seem to matter much. For a few precious hours the walls of the ballpark keep the worries of the world at bay. We drop our worldly judgments like so many peanut shells. That’s worth the price of admission right there.