I watched the movie “42” for the first time this past weekend.
Aside from it being a great story about a man who had incredible intestinal fortitude and mental toughness to bring about an end to the infamous color barrier in Major League Baseball, it also brought to mind a few other interesting nuggets.
Like how deeply embedded racism has been woven into this country’s fabric, and how even sports can be used as a powerful tool to bring about unity.
Or how passionate people used to be — and in some cases, still are — about the game of baseball. With the setting of “42” being in the late 1940s, you could easily see how this grand old game used to be America’s favorite pastime.
And even today, despite the popularity takeover of football — and to a much lesser extent, basketball — I can understand why there are many diehards who don’t want to let that feeling go.
I’ve been in major college football stadiums, National Football League stadiums and state of the art basketball arenas, but I can honestly say that there’s no feeling quite like a sunny afternoon or early evening at a baseball park.
And this is coming from one who isn’t exactly the biggest baseball fan that ever lived. In fact, I find it quite difficult to simply watch the game on television, unless the Braves are playing or it’s a deciding game in a playoff series or the World Series.
But being at the ballpark is a whole different story.
Back in April, while covering a high school game between Lovejoy and Locust Grove, I couldn’t just confine myself to sitting in the press box. Around the fourth or fifth inning, I made my way down to the ground level and just took in the action in different places around the field.
After the game, it made me only want to take in another. So one month later, when my wife told me about her free tickets to a Braves game, I jumped at the chance to go to Turner Field to take in an Atlanta Braves game.
The smell of concessions. The almost artistic way grass on the field is mowed. The banging of the huge drum that signaled for the camaraderie of thousands of fans yelling “Let’s go Braves! Let’s go Braves!” Or even those scores of fans taking part in the tomahawk chop together.
It was an extra innings game against Pittsburgh. I can’t remember now how the Braves won, but they did. And it touched off a huge celebration, complete with strangers high-fiving, hugging and congratulating each other as if their children were participating.
Yes, strangers. For a moment, people who knew nothing of each other were united toward the cause of rooting on the home team. People who would probably otherwise vehemently disagree on virtually everything else in life, including political parties, religious preferences, best part of town to live on or even favorite foods, some how came together in that pure moment of unity for one common cause.
In those moments, none of the aforementioned hot button subjects mattered. Nobody cared, at Turner Field, who you voted for. Nobody cared whether you were black, white, Asian, Hispanic or a combination of any. It didn’t matter what church you went to or what religion you called your own — or even if you subscribed to one at all.
The only thing that mattered was cheering on Atlanta’s favorite team in what used to be America’s favorite pastime.
A pastime that grew up and evolved with the country. A pastime that was all about timely, non-steroid-induced at-bats, good throws, great catches, good pitching and smart decisions. A pastime that was once unmarred, as it is now with the gnat-like presence of the performance enhancing drugs scandal.
What happened to the pastime?
In a rare moment, after coming from the game, I turned on the television — I rarely watch anything anymore that doesn’t have something to do with my 2-year-old son — and it seemed like everything I saw was an argument of some sort. Political arguments. Marriage arguments. Racial arguments.
I longed once again for the pastime. I wanted what I had at the ballpark. I longed to find a stranger to high five and a universal cause to rally around.
Sports seems to bring that out of you. Historically, baseball seems to have done it more.
Not sure if we can get that pastime back to what it used to be. But hopefully one day we can be able to bottle up some of that ballpark unity and pour it out into the areas of our nation that need it most.
Hopefully I can get back to The Ted one more time this year.
Gabriel Stovall covers sports for the Clayton News Daily and Henry Daily Herald newspapers. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @GabrielStovall1.