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Nothing Comes Between Me And Calvin

Grun-blings

By Michael R. Grunwald

This Tuesday, Calvin suffered through the anxieties of a classic childhood nightmare--he realized he was stuck on the playground with all of the girls while all of the boys played baseball.

Yesterday, Calvin admitted to Hobbes that he doesn't even like baseball that much. Playing catch is fun. Running around is fun. But serious organized grownup baseball is boring.

Like Calvin, baseball just doesn't do it for me anymore.

Oh, I still mouth off about the Mets as if I cared whether Keith Miller was leading the league in sacrifice bunts, but I have come to the inescapable conclusion that baseball is the most boring athletic event around (with the possible exception of American Gladiators and the definite exception of golf).

When I started Little League at the worldly age of seven (because everyone else did), I was the most hyperactive kid on the team. If I was playing shortstop, I'd dive for a ground ball to the first baseman. ("I mean, it's fun playing baseball with just you," Calvin told Hobbes. "We get to do everything.") If I was playing left field, I'd sprint to cover second base on a bunt down the third-base line. (I'd just rather run around," Calvin told Suzie.) If I was playing catcher--wait, I said I was hyperactive, not stupid.

By the time I was in junior high, I had calmed down a bit. I no longer came home from baseball games hoarse from the incessant bench chatter that would inevitably get me beaten up in the schoolyard the next day. I no longer spat on my palm for the postgame handshakes.

But baseball was still fun. I remember falling off the mound in hysterics after our opponents' bench had collapsed in the middle of my windup. I remember my co-presidency of the two-man Kiko Garcia Fan Club in honor of the Baltimore utility infielder. I remember Ralph James slamming a towering shot far over the head of our leftfielder, a kid named Ron Mitchell. I cracked up as our coach pulled Ron off the field for jogging after the ball. "But Mr. Marshall, he could have run around the bases twice," Ron pleaded.

Ron and Ralph have turned their interests elsewhere (they're the two top scorers on the Harvard basketball team), and so have I. I have yet to watch one minute of a major league game this year. I have yet to pick up a baseball. I did play softball one afternoon last week--and made three errors in one inning.

My mother always made fun of me for sitting around watching baseball players stand around on TV. For caring whether a group of 25 illiterate, greedy strangers playing would make an illiterate, greedy owner a richer man. For memorizing Bob Apodaca's lifetime E.R.A. For refusing even to tape the games and watch them without commercials.

Now, I can't help but feeling that my mother was right. If peer pressure forces Calvin into baseball hysteria, I hope his mom can provide the same kind of voice of reason to remind him constantly of the cosmic silliness of Abner Doubleday's monster creation.

A pitch travels to the plate in less than a second. Then everyone hangs out for an eternity. During this time, the pitcher rubs the ball, the batter adjusts his jock, the manager spits tobacco on his shoes, the batboy sprints across the field for no apparent reason, the owner sells a racetrack, the designated hitter does a line of coke, the fat slob in the fourth row spills his beer, the usher sells a We're Number One felt finger, the mascot kisses a bikini-clad fan, the general manager exiles a third baseman to Cleveland for a player to be named later, the organist plays a march, the crowd bellows "Charge," an Eastern European government goes belly-up, a newborn baby enters the world, a cancer victim leaves it and the cycle begins again. Four hundred times a game. One hundred sixty-two games a year.

"But that's the beauty of baseball," horsehiders insist. "Over and over again! Just like life!"

Last week, my professor discussed a French absurdist dramatist's lecture to the intellectual elite of his day. The playwright stood in front of the audience and began to clang a cowbell. The crowd chuckled appreciatively. He kept on clanging. The crowd began to shift nervously in their seats. He kept on clanging. The crowd began to pelt him with rotten meat.

Baseball is equally absurd. The sport has been clanging its cowbell for almost 100 years, and a brainwashed American herd still shells out cash every day to get into the pasture. It's time to wake up and start hurling the week-old tenderloin.

Calvin, don't let them trick you into becoming a baseball fan. You've got better things to do.

And being the only boy on the playground doesn't sound like a bad deal to me.

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