I was born in Iran in 1978 and my mom moved us to Los Angeles in 1984. One of my very first memories in my adopted homeland was watching the 1984 National League Championship Series between the Chicago Cubs and San Diego Padres. I’m not entirely sure what my initial thoughts were as I watched this bizarre thing on TV, but I do remember by the end of that game, a bunch of grown men rushed the field jumping in joy. As a six-year-old, I’m thinking, well this has to be pretty good if these people are so excited! How do I play? All I did for months was to read anything and everything I could get my hands on about baseball. Finally, spring sprung and my mom signed me up for 5-Pitch. I had no idea what to do, but I was PUMPED up! Right there on that day, my first American experience occurred; the handing down from father to son (in this case mother to son) the knowledge of running the bases, sliding in the dirt and trying to hit a little white ball with a thin object (granted my mom didn’t teach me this, the coaches did, but still). This is why Baseball is America.
In 1985, my sister’s boyfriend took me to Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego, and my senses were overloaded with excitement. The smell of the fresh-cut grass, the hot dogs, the peanuts, the whizzing sound the ball makes when it flies past you. Every year since then, I’ve anticipated watching this remarkable game. And every year when I go to my first game, I always notice the little kids coming with their parents, as a new generation of Americans are introduced to our pastime. Without a doubt, when I think of America, I think of baseball. For instance, in 2005, I moved back to Iran from London to work as a political consultant. I had absolutely no direction or career path. Heck, I didn’t know what part of the world I wanted to live in, let alone, what my “career” would be. Nevertheless, I stayed there for two years, enough time to gain some experience and be recruited by a firm in Manama, Bahrain. As I’m sitting on the coast of the Persian Gulf, the same question kept going through my head: Where do I belong, because it’s not here! Right then and there, the lawn mower went by and I smelled fresh-cut grass. That smell took me straight back to 1985 in Jack Murphy Stadium, and folks, the rest was history. I denied the job in Bahrain, cancelled my interviews in Saudi Arabia, packed up my bags in Iran and moved to Los Angeles. But baseball hasn’t just answered or healed my wounds and questions. The world changed after 9/11. For weeks, we were all trying to make some sense of what just happened and where it’ll take us. The future and the course of history was foggy and scary for most people. Then on October 27, 2001, game one of the World Series started. And on October 30, 2001, the series moved to New York, where for the first time, the nation and the city started healing again. Baseball reminded us of what normal is supposed to be like. My eyes got teary when the Arizona Diamondbacks rushed the field in victory. Not because I’m a Diamondbacks fan (Padres all the way), no sir. It was because for the first time in weeks I felt whole, and my childhood came rushing back.
We live in an age of cynicism, where a lot is about “me,” not anyone else. Athletes are paid more money than most of us will see in our lifetime. Sometimes it’s hard to relate to these guys, and it’s certainly easy to dismiss the sport and claim there’s no “love of the game” anymore. What truly inspired this post was a news clip I read over the weekend about Barry Zito starting the season in the Minor Leagues. He’s a pitcher that has achieved more than most have in their careers. He’s won the World Series, was the highest paid pitcher at one point in his career and holds several accolades. When told he will not be starting the season in The Show, but has the option of retiring, he responded with “Why should I rush to go sit at home? … A lot of (retired guys) regretted that they just didn’t keep going. Put your pride aside, and just go play baseball.” That is for love of the game. That is what baseball is all about, and that’s why baseball is America. This is a game where you can see a 19-year-old on the same field as a 39-year-old. Where people come from all walks of life, not just to play, but to watch. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor. If you’re White, Black, Asian or Hispanic. In fact, nearly 20 nationalities are represented in Major League Baseball today. No automatic right or privilege will grant you special access to play. If you can perform with the best of them, then nothing else matters. If that’s not what America is about, then I don’t know what is.
Barry Zito story: