Web Exclusives: The Varsity Typewriter
a PAW web exclusive column by Patrick Sullivan '02 (email: pas@princeton.edu)

November 7, 2001:
Ballpark freedom
American baseball is forever, and the World Series is our heart

By Patrick Sullivan '02


During fall break, I traveled to London to perform thesis research.

My daily commute to the Public Records Office took almost an hour on the Tube, so each morning, after purchasing an overpriced, under-octane "coffee" (suspiciously like lukewarm chocolate milk, for the equivalent of $2.50) and a newspaper, I settled in for the ride. I read about Prime Minister Tony Blair, about Afghanistan, about the royal family, and of course, about football.

Not American football, with the helmets and the pigskin, but football, or to us Ameri-centrics, soccer. As an American with very little exposure to the sport, I was mildly interested, but my real reason for reading the sports section — and buying the paper, for that matter — was to read about the World Series.

As a displaced Cubs fan, by virtue of proximity I consider myself a Yankees supporter. And I love the World Series; October baseball at its finest. However, because of my research in London, I missed the first five games of the series. Try as I might, I could not find so much as the game scores in the London papers I read. We're not talking about a big article or color photos . . . all I wanted was a two-sentence recap on the fifth page of sports next to that article about amateur fencing.

No such luck. All soccer, all the time.

When I questioned my British host about this, he laughed. Why even call it the "World" Series, he asked? Nobody except for Americans and Japanese even care about baseball. While not totally accurate, he made sense — at first. When compared to soccer, baseball is predominantly an American sport, eclipsed in its American-ness only by football. Conversely, soccer reigns supreme as the world's most popular athletic event. It is an international game, culminating in the appropriately titled World Cup tournament.

By the time I returned to Newark late Thursday night, I was so starved for baseball that after picking up my bags, I stood alone in the international customs area, glued to a television as the Yankees fought through 12 innings towards victory. Although the game-five thriller temporarily satisfied my baseball needs, I still pondered my British friend's comment about the "World" Series.

I must heartily disagree with his statement. While watching one of the best baseball games in history Sunday night (the final game of the series), I realized the "worldly" importance of the World Series. It defines who we are to the world.

Baseball is quintessentially American. From the expansive, green and shiny ballparks, the juicy hotdogs, the lure of the bleacher seats on a Sunday afternoon or the "wave" rippling through the crowds, baseball embodies our national spirit. Even the typically obnoxious Bronx Bomber fans, yelling obscenities at the umpire all the way from left field, or the rowdy "bleacher bums" in Chicago, dancing shirtless in the stands of Wrigley Field and heckling the outfielders by throwing back home runs and Snickers bars, exemplifies our country.

This World Series proved no different. After September 11, New Yorkers resumed their daily rituals. And like a rite of autumn, the Bombers found their typical rhythm again, seamlessly connecting October with victory. To some, their ascent toward the American League crown and a near (so, so near) victory in game seven of the World Series seemed predestined. This Cinderella team fought like New Yorkers — fought like Americans.

The World Series serves internationally as a symbol of the American heart. You may attack us, you may exploit our freedom loving shores, but we'll get right back up the next day, dust off, and enjoy what you cannot possibly comprehend: the freedom and exhilaration of a day at the ball park.

So baseball isn't as international as soccer — that's obvious. One could just as easily craft a passionate defense of the worldly importance of soccer and I wouldn't argue with them at all. But the World Series deserves its title, not just for the many countries that love and play the game, but more for the spirit that baseball exudes: the spacious, relaxing, thrilling, team-oriented sport that shows to the world the classy strength and character that typifies the American spirit.

And let it be known that you heard it here first: Next year's world champion will be the Chicago Cubs. Any takers?

You can reach Patrick at pas@princeton.edu.