If you’re here you already have a question: how are baseball and trains going to mix? To me, the reasons they mix have to do with what baseball and rail can provide us in our lives today in order to replace the feeling of detachment from our communities and our country, which as it has become cliche to point out, is polarized and suffering from a pretty profound identity crisis. I learned early in life that something like baseball can provide a solution to that feeling.
I don’t think I’m alone when I say I first figured out how important fandom could be for those sorts of issues when my team started winning. My dear Texas Rangers, who first came to Arlington in the 70s in the throes of an identity crisis, have only made it to the World Series a couple times, but I was fortunate enough to have been alive and in the impressionable years of my early adolescence when those two trips to the moon occurred.
The world series that sticks most clearly in my memory is the first, in part because it felt so improbable. It was a magical year for Texas Rangers baseball, and it contained the hallmarks of every cultural moment: the three-claw swipe and the antler hands that the base coaches used that year became our dance and were commemorated in ubiquitous t shirts, the heroes (and antiheroes) had their names repeated over and over (Andrus, Beltre, Washington), the Ballpark at Arlington became our temple.
That was how I first understood the beauty of baseball. Complete strangers would complement each other over a Rangers t-shirt or ball cap. It inspired the sort of collectivism and shared cause that turns a group of people into a community. Maybe the biggest benefit of sports is that they give us something larger than ourselves that’s easy to root for – there’s no barrier of entry for becoming a fan, you just have to watch the game or buy a hat. In the past couple of years we’ve seen how a common cause can transform a country.
Everyone was in on the action that year too – I remember going to one of my choir concerts and instead of the usual events announcement on the board in front of my middle school was just the message “GO RANGERS!” In between songs, I remember one kid was streaming one of the World Series games on his phone to try and keep up with the action. He got detention for it the next day, but I know he didn’t regret it because he was the most popular guy at the concert that night as he updated us on the score.
If you remember the world series that year, you already know that despite coming within a single strike of becoming World Champs, the Rangers lost that year. It doesn’t really matter. When I look back on the countless major and minor league games I’ve attended, or the All-Stars I voted for, for me the moment I became a fan is when it finally took on a significance for me beyond just the game.
The history of baseball and railroad are integral aspects of this country. Baseball, like trains, expanded with the country. Baseball, like trains, provides us with a link to 20th century growth, optimism, and communitarian philosophy because it brings us together to celebrate our teams. We need baseball in a similar way that we need trains – an afternoon or evening at the ballpark provides us with a place to connect and commune with people that we might not otherwise share a connection with. Trains, meanwhile, provide us with a physical connection to places that we might not otherwise share a connection with. It’s that ability to connect that made the two so interesting to me in the first place.
Look, obviously there are ulterior motives. I love baseball, I love hot dogs, I love warm summer nights. If I didn’t enjoy the heck out of baseball, there’s no way I’d be bringing myself to 19 games in six weeks. Besides all the other reasons, baseball and trains mix because they’re just so quintessentially American, right up there with apple pie. I hope that you understand on the same level as I do what fundamental services these two things can provide. I’m positive baseball will bring this whole trip together.
By – Jacob Wallace