This is the time of year when Americans make a sincere effort to care about the World Series, which determines which baseball team will be the champion of the entire world, except for the part of the world located outside the United States and southeastern Canada.
But the heck with that part. This is OUR national pastime, and that's why the World Series arouses our passion, even if we stopped paying attention to pro baseball some years ago, when it started adding mutant teams with names like the Tampa Bay Area Fighting Seaweeds.
Why is baseball our national pastime? Because it is a metaphor for life itself. As George Will put it: "In life, as in baseball, we must leave the dugout of complacency, step up to the home plate of opportunity, adjust the protective groin cup of caution and swing the bat of hope at the curve ball of fate, hoping that we can hit a line drive of success past the shortstop of misfortune, then sprint down the basepath of chance, knowing that at any moment we may pull the hamstring muscle of inadequacy and fall face-first onto the field of failure, where the chinch bugs of broken dreams will crawl into our nose."
Yes, baseball is very deep, although this is not obvious from looking at it. If you don't grasp the nuances, baseball appears to be a group of large, unshaven men standing around in their pajamas and frowning, as if thinking, "My arms are so big that I can no longer groom myself!" Yet show the same scene to serious baseball fans, and they will see a complex, fascinating, almost artistic tableau. Why? Because they have consumed huge quantities of the drug Ecstasy.
No, seriously, it's because these fans appreciate the subtleties of baseball. To help you perceive these subtleties during the World Series, here's a "quick refresher course," starting with:
The Origins of Baseball: Mankind has played games involving sticks and balls for hundreds of thousands of years. Meanwhile, Womankind had her hands full raising Childrenkind, but whenever she asked Mankind to lend a hand, he'd answer: "Not now! We have a no-hitter going!" That was true, because numbers had not been invented yet. Then, in 1839, along came a man named Abner Doubleday, who as you can imagine took a lot of ribbing because his name could be rearranged to spell not only "A Barely Nude Bod" but also "Lure Dad By A Bone." Nevertheless, he invented a game that included virtually all of the elements of modern-day baseball, including Bob Costas and the song "Who Let the Dogs Out." This led to the Civil War.
Baseball Today: Baseball today is very much the same as it was 150 years ago, except that, for security reasons, the games take place after the public has gone to bed. The rules are simple: Each team sends nine players onto the field, except for one team, which sends one -- the "batter" -- plus two elderly retired players called "coaches," who constantly touch themselves on various parts of their bodies to communicate, via Secret Code, the message: "Tobacco juice has corroded my brain into a lump of dead tissue the size of a grape."
The object of baseball is for the "pitcher" to throw the "ball" into the "strike zone." This is almost impossible, because the only person who knows the location of the strike zone is the "umpire," and he refuses to reveal it because of a bitter, decades-old labor dispute between his union and Major League Baseball. On any given day, the strike zone may not even be in the stadium; there's simply no way to tell. The umpire communicates solely by making ambiguous hand gestures and shouting something that sounds like "HROOOOT!" which he refuses to explain.
Eventually, the pitcher throws the ball at the batter, in case the strike zone is located somewhere on his body. This is the signal for all the players to run to the middle of the field and engage in a form of combat similar to professional wrestling, except that sometimes professional wrestlers, by accident, actually hit each other. This never happens in baseball, where the last player to land a punch was Babe Ruth, who in the 1921 World Series, knocked out his own self. Instead of punching, baseball players fight by grabbing each other's shirts and exchanging fierce glares, as if to say: "You're gonna get a PERMANENT WRINKLE IN YOUR PAJAMAS, BUSTER!"
After nine "innings" of this, the team with the most "runs" wins. I don't know how the runs happen, because by then I'm asleep. But I sleep in front of the TV, in a rooting position. My body language clearly says, "I may not know who's playing, but if they don't win, it's a shame."