If you know me, you probably know that I’m a baseball fan. It’s a terrific game. People who seriously follow baseball call it their religion, or a mirror for life. People have said the same about theatre and other art forms. Baseball may not be a national obsession (that dubious title probably goes to pro and college football) but it is still a national pastime, and the arts can learn a lot from it.
First of all, baseball is available at the highest professional level almost every day and although it costs more to produce and pay for players in New York and LA (just like the arts) a fan can see the highest level of professionalism in cities as diverse as Tampa Bay, Kansas City, and Phoenix. If you can’t see it live, you can access a reasonable facsimile for free or close to free. Children are encouraged to participate from a very young age – not just spectate, but to put on a jersey with a number and hit a ball off a T and run around the bases. I admit that, unfortunately, much of that encouragement goes to boys, but it’s an imperfect world. Even as adults, amateur players can actually play ball, not just spectate (I myself even had a short stint in the Broadway Show League, a co-ed recreational softball league that plays in Central Park). It’s always family friendly and, oh yeah, there’s food. Even my kid’s recreational league had a snack bar staffed by parent volunteers. There are different levels of spectator opportunities – from the luxury box to the bleachers in the major leagues to A, AA, and AAA farm teams where local performers sometimes take to the field between innings. People can even watch the training and the practice.
So, what does my love letter to baseball have to do with the arts? Baseball helps me envision a different kind of place for the arts in America. I’m imagining an arts ecosystem that involves lifetime participation as well as spectatorship, geographic variety, multiple levels of professionalism and expertise, and, most importantly, arts participation as an everyday pastime, not just something to do on a special occasion.