Friday, August 24, 2012

The Baseball Season and the School Year

I love baseball. No major revelation there - baseball seems to be the sport of choice of intellectuals, both real and self-styled. George Will, Stephen Jay Gould, A. Bartlett Giamatti - the list goes on and on of men who were primarily academics or achieved fame for thoughtful discourse in other fields and yet could not resist penning some significant tome about our national pastime. Perhaps it is because it is a game that even the least athletic individual could see himself being able to play (Seriously - football offensive linemen are basically houses with eyes, but Phil Rizzutto is a hall of famer). Perhaps baseball appeals to eggheads because its slow pace allows time to calculate pi to three thousand places in between pitches. Or perhaps the critics of baseball are right, and baseball is a boring sport whose fans are boring people.

I'll let other people argue those points in forums (fora?) that are more appropriate for such discussions. For me, certainly as I get older and possibly wiser, baseball has several global areas of appeal, one of which stands out as we stand at the precipice of a new school year: the long season.

Baseball's long season is unique. In football, if you lose your first three games, you start planning for next year. In baseball, you have 159 more chances (When the 1998 Yankees won a then-record 114 games, they began the season 1-3, and pundits everywhere were writing how no team had ever started a season like that and gone on to win it all. So much for that tidbit). In 1994, some guy named Tuffy Rhodes hit three home runs on opening day, and a new Babe Ruth was crowned. Rhodes hit a total of 13 in his major league career and moved to Japan the next season. Last year, the Pittsburgh Pirates, who had not had a winning season since the first Bush administration, were in first place for a week in July. They finished the season over 20 games out of first (although they are having a nice season this time around).

The point is that the baseball season, like life itself, is long. Very, very long. The events of a week or even a month can be overwhelmed by the events of five other months. Many players who make the all-star team in July wind up having just slightly above average seasons when all is said and done.

(And don't get me started on the career thing. Many a player is deemed to be a future hall of famer after two or three impressive seasons, only to find out that being that good for a decade or more is not so easy.)

Applying this to education is a simple shift, and one that is apropos for the beginning of school - which takes place next week in the NY/NJ area and has already happened in many other locations. The school year is long - there are slightly more days in the school year than there are games in the baseball season. Opening day is at once exciting, exhilarating, and exhausting. Students are eager to learn, lessons are well-planned, books and notebooks and pens and everything else is exactly where it needs to be. But then we get into the heart of the year - schedules get crowded, fatigue sets in, events and activities and programs compete for our precious teaching time. Students reach new milestones in their personal maturation and with that often comes new challenges for them, for their parents, and for their teachers. The long year presents plenty of opportunities for mishaps, miscues, and flat-out bad days.

On the other hand, as in baseball, it allows plenty of room to iron out all of the wrinkles. Over the course of a long season, those who are truly good will prove themselves, while those who are mere pretenders will founder on the rocks. In school as well, those of us who believe in what we are doing, who genuinely care for our students, and who are dedicated to making each class and each day an opportunity for our students to learn something new and to grow in some small way - we will be able to work through those rough days and be able to look back in June on what has been another successful year.

Wishing everyone - teacher, parent, and student alike - much success as we embark on another exciting school year.

1 comment:

Ha_Safran said...

Not to nitpick, but I have to update you on Tuffy Rhodes - the guy has the most career HRs by a non-Japanese player in the Japanese leagues, as well as co-owning the single-season HR record (which he reached before the end of the season, and was then intentionally walked at EVERY SINGLE AT-BAT left in the season, so that he would not be able to break it).

However, if you want to beat up on the Yankees some more, that's fine by me.