Rashomon: Spit Take
by Ken Arneson
2004-06-21 2:29

For Father’s Day, my seven-year-old daughter Linnea wrote me a joke:

Q: Why did a hot dog go to the bullpen?
A: To get warmed up!

Now there’s a girl who knows what her dad likes. I’ll take a baseball joke over a necktie every time.

Father’s Day dinner was a gathering of thirteen people at my wife’s parents’ house. The Yankee-Dodger game served as background music, but the primary entertainment was my wife’s nine-month-old niece, Julia. Julia lives in San Diego with her parents, and Sunday she made her first Bay Area appearance since Christmas. Back then, she couldn’t do much, but now she could crawl, stand, smile, and grab things and put them into her mouth.

MLB has had a century to refine its product to compete with the NBA, NFL, NASCAR, and other sports for entertainment value. But evolution has had eons to refine babies and our brains’ response to them. Nothing can compete with babies.

Julia and I played catch with a small squishy baseball for quite a while. Her scouting report reads, “DELIVERY RESEMBLES GAYLORD PERRY.” I’d hand her the ball, she’d hand it back, and somehow, the ball returned each time covered with more and more saliva.

Dinner was served. Julia took a break from playing to drink a bottle of milk, and the baseball game got some attention. The room was filled with A’s and Giants fans. Everyone in the room hated both the Yankees and Dodgers, but it’s hard to watch a game without taking sides. In general, the A’s fans rooted for the Dodgers, while the Giants fans rooted for the Yankees.

Linnea tried out her joke on the dinner crowd, and an aunt gave her a new punchline:

Q: Why did a hot dog go to the bullpen?
A: Because it couldn’t do any worse than Rhodes and Mecir.

Sad, but oh so true. When Guillermo Mota came into the game, and ESPN put up his stats, I took a cue from baby Julia and started drooling. I daydreamed about the rumored A’s-Royals-Dodgers trade that would send Carlos Beltran to L.A. and Mota to Oakland. I’m crying for a closer the way a hungry infant desperately screams for milk. Trade rumors are my pacifier.

During the seventh inning stretch, Linnea went to the piano and entertained her aunts, uncles, parents and grandparents by playing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”.

It struck me that here lies baseball’s competitive advantage. Vin Scully tells us on TV about the Dodgers beating the Yankees in ’55, in ’63, and in ’81. Gagne strikes out ARod last night on the way to his 81st consecutive save, and our generation has its own memorable moment we can pass on. This interaction between young and old is so hardwired into us, even a nine-month-old can understand it. We hand these traditions and memories to the next generation, and in doing so, they give us something back, a connection to something beyond ourselves.

They may not remember perfectly what we did this night or how we felt about it as it happened; they may not play the song the way the composer intended; but it’s the interactions, not the facts, that matter. This is the game we’re designed to play. And if the ball is all covered in slobber, so what?

This is Ken Arneson's blog about baseball, brains, art, science, technology, philosophy, poetry, politics and whatever else Ken Arneson feels like writing about
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