Watching Saturday's Chicago Cubs-San Francisco Giants game, the average fan might have thought he had been sucked into some hole in the time-space continuum and spit out in the year 1912 for a good old-fashioned ball game. The uniforms for both teams were baggy with the old-school white and black logos, the PA announcer used an old-style megaphone to read off the starting lineups and peanuts cost just five cents. (You can watch the highlights here.)
Besides the multi-million dollar triple-deck stadium with a capacity of over 40,000 and the enormous electronic scoreboard in the outfield, it practically felt like a classic day for baseball at the brand-new Polo Grounds.
Games like this one remind me of the special connection between modern baseball and its past. Basketball, football and hockey have gone through too many changes in the past or are just too new for people to appreciate their pasts. Baseball, however, has been as constant as the sun over the years.
The NBA's rough past is usually mocked for its low-scoring games where teams would hold the ball for minutes on end without a shot clock to forbid such behavior. And although the NHL has been around since 1917, there really isn't much to talk about from when the league had four teams. The NFL didn't even have a forward pass until legendary shortstop Honus Wagner had played nine big league seasons.
Even though baseball is now much more focused on home runs and players are hulks compared to their counterparts of 1900, it is always fun to look back and compare the two different styles of play. What if Cy Young were to pitch to today's hitters? Would he still blow the ball right by them? What if we put Josh Hamilton in the Polo Grounds? Would he pound the ball over the shallow right-field fence, or would he be able to reach the distant center-field fence?
The beauty of baseball is that our favorite players of today, Albert Pujols, Derek Jeter, and Roy Halladay, are playing the same game that Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, and Walter Johnson played a hundred years ago. The rules are essentially the same for both eras, which is what I think makes the connection between baseball's past and present so intriguing.
Most sports fans alive today were around when the Super Bowl, the NFL's most widely-regarded tradition, was first played. Similarly, almost everyone can claim a direct family relation to someone who was alive when the NBA formed in 1946. How many people can say they were around for the first World Series in 1901? How many can even say they've met someone who was alive then?
Saturday's Cubs-Giants game reminds us that although it was over 100 years ago that the game we love was first introduced, the players only need to pull on their uniforms and step onto the field to turn back the clock. And there we are again, Wrigley's Cubs battling John McGraw and the Giants at the Polo Grounds with the familiar smell of roasted peanuts in the air and the ball popping off the bat with that timeless thwack.
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