Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Quantum of Celebration

Disappointment crept into my mind again. Bottom of the ninth, two outs, down by one. A comeback seemed improbable, nearly impossible, against one of the best closers in the game. A full count plagued the scoreboard; the team was down to its last strike and hope had all but dissipated.

I’ve seen a lot of clocks in my lifetime: the Glockenspiel in Munich; the astronomical clock on the Old Town Hall Tower in Prague; the tower that stands in the middle of Place d’Etoile in Beirut in an area once flattened by war; the Shepherd Gate Clock that keeps all the time of the world in Greenwich, London…none of them matters an iota to our great game. And that makes baseball the most natural game.

Clocks in sports, well, they just aren’t natural. Sports with clocks are often at odds with the time they keep. Why does it take ten minutes to play the last two minutes of a basketball game? Why do soccer matches continue even when the clock says zero? See what I’m saying?

Time, you see, is a human construct. Sure, the Earth’s rotation and its orbit give us day and night and years and seasons, but that’s of the material world, what’s visible to us. Einstein’s special and general theories of relativity erased the idea of time as a universal constant. A quantum physicist by the name of Max Planck set a temporal boundary where distances and intervals are so short that the concepts of space and time break down. The past, present, and future simply cannot exist as absolutes.

In baseball, like in quantum physics, what’s in the past (two outs in the ninth, the balls and strikes that made up the full count) is irrelevant to the batter living in the present. Sure, he might try to guess what the next pitch will be, but that’s in the future, no matter how immediate it is. That Devin Mesoraco did not start the game didn’t matter as he strode up to the plate. That I, like many fans, had all but put this one in the books didn’t matter. There are no clocks in baseball. There is no time. As a pretty good pitch came out of the hand of the Barves’ elite reliever and the batter began his swing, he left the past behind and the future ahead and only existed in the now. Suddenly, a ballgame that had been all but over was beginning again. There was no longer a past and the entire future was ahead. Then the leadoff hitter came to the plate and left us all stunned.

Of course, the laws of physics don’t explain why time always points to the future. When Choo’s ball landed beyond the fence in centerfield, it moved the Reds one step closer to that future trophy we all aspire to see in that beautiful room in the Reds Hall of Fame. No one can pull that ball back over the fence; no one can change what actually happened. But that’s just the physical way of looking at it. Go bigger to metaphysics, outside of the human ego, and break down the time divide.

Think about the events of what we call the past that led up to Choo batting at that moment. That Choo is even on the team is a result of, among other things, Drew Stubbs not living up to his expectations as a number one draft pick. That Stubbs was available to draft had to do with the performance of the Reds in the prior season, and that performance had to do with the Griffey contract (one can argue, but I believe it.) Griffey came to Cincinnati because it was where he was from, and he was from there because his father had played there. His father played there because he was drafted by the Reds and their draft slot was based on their performance in 1968. That performance was affected by all the things in history that happened before then. Professional baseball exists because the industrial revolution lifted enough people out of poverty that games could now be something they spent money on. The industrial revolution happened because of scientific discoveries of the Enlightenment; the Enlightenment built on the advances made during the Islamic Golden Age, Islam happened because a politician called Mo wanted to purge religion of the corruptions of the church*, etc. etc. etc. Everything that ever happened in history had an effect on why Choo came to bat in that exact situation. And whatever Choo does in what we call the future is also part of this one single existence where everything that ever happened affects everything that ever will happen.

So the game of baseball is as close as we can get to perfection. No clocks, no time, just an event where anything can happen. As Einstein said, “The distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.” Might I add that human beings are also stubbornly persistent in their beliefs in illusions.

*Yes, it's oversimplifying things, I know. Do you really want to read the whole history of the world here? No, I didn't think so.

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