Baseball's story is America's story. And mine, too. 

Play Ball

I remember being six or seven years old, living in Los Angeles, sitting in front of the TV watching baseball highlights. Pretty normal kid stuff, right?

The thing is, for the better part of the years before, that kid lived in Iran, a war-torn country where mutilated bodies and craters in the street were common, as were air raid sirens, anti-aircraft artillery, and the sounds of "Allah Akbar" blaring from loudspeakers among the minarets of the mosques during prayer several times a day.

Flash back to that kid watching this bizarre new spectacle in the mid-1980s, with Ozzie Smith doing back flips, Tony Gwynn ripping line drives, and commentators speaking a language he could barely understand.

Yep, that was me. I didn't know much, except that Fourth of July fireworks made me cry because I thought we were being bombed. I knew my mom was there though, and somehow I fell in love with baseball.

My first experience at a ballpark was when my sister's boyfriend, a first-generation Filipino American, drove me from Los Angeles to his native San Diego to watch the Padres. Curse him for making me a Padres fan. I was in awe, actually seeing Tony Gwynn rip those line drives only a few feet away from me. And to sit down to smells of fresh cut grass, tasting hot dogs and crackerjacks for the first time, listening to the sounds of the ball zipping around, and the crack of the bat. Then everyone got to sing along — something about stretching, eating more crackerjacks and saying "I don't care if I ever get back," except that I really wanted to.

Because I'll tell you this much, those are very different sensations than what I was used to, and I loved every second of every inning. I still do.

After that experience, I begged my mom to let me play Little League. And from there football, basketball, tennis, and Cub Scouts. From kid pitch onward, I was living the dream.

Baseball is personal. It means much more than a sport. It defines my American experience. It's why whenever I hear the "Star Spangled Banner," I get goosebumps, and admittedly, sometimes teary-eyed. I remember when I was being naturalized, I pledged allegiance to defend the Constitution, to defend this experiment in democracy.

The game of baseball, like the American system, is painstakingly, deliberately slow, with precise calculations and long term strategies that have implications, not for a season, but for years.

America is a land of immigrants. Many of European descent can trace their ancestry back to Ellis Island, feeling the embrace of Lady Liberty. Those same immigrants are the ones that first played organized baseball. I assume, just to play a game at first, but eventually to live the American Dream. That tradition continues today, with players from over 20 countries seeking the dream. Like most things in America — as we all hope — you're judged on your performance, not how you look or where your from.

Baseball is a sport footnoted with moments of American pride and tragedy. Some of its best players went to fight in World War II. Black players weren't allowed to play in the majors until the late 1940s. Even fans were separated by race.

I admit the way I feel about baseball is a bit dreamy. It's much like the way I feel about America. Both, of course, have their flaws, their imperfections, their greed.

But I like that dream, because baseball is unlike other sports, and America is unlike other countries. Without that dream, we only have the past to look back to. In my lifetime, it was President George W. Bush throwing out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium in New York after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that assured me we were going to be just fine. In times of need, baseball has always assured us that although we're still a work in progress, we are great, even if our process is deliberate, and painfully slow.

Rouzy Vafaie is second vice-chairman of the Charleston County Republican Party.


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