Our National Pastime

By Joel Ebert

This weekend the citizens of this fair land will see three large events simultaneously occur. Of course the most obvious is the opening weekend of a new Will Smith motion picture (Hancock) – an event which coincidentally coincides with the celebration of Independence Day (and not the 1996 film also starring Mr. Smith). While big Willie has shown dominance on the American holiday (in terms of the film industry) for the past six years, an even greater dominance on the holiday has been seen by an organized sport called baseball.

With its roots tracing back to the late 1800s, baseball has often been referred to as a national pastime. While baseball may not be as old as our great nation, it certainly has held its own throughout the years. Baseball on July 4 has provided us with some of the most memorable moments in major league baseball history.

In 1881, there were two complete games (9 full innings) thrown by one pitcher. In 1900, roughly 1,000 fans celebrated their Independence by firing pistols into the air at a game in Chicago. On July 4, 1939, Lou Gehrig, “the luckiest man on the face of the earth” made his farewell speech. In 1980, Nolan Ryan became the 4th pitcher in baseball history to record 3,000 strike-outs (today there are still only 16 pitchers who have done so). And in 1985, after a 6 hour and 10 minute game between the New York Mets and Atlanta Braves (which lasted until 4 a.m.), the 1,000 fans that remained were treated to a pre-dawn fireworks display that frightened local neighbors.

This year, I am especially looking forward to the long weekend because of a historical match up between two epic rivals: the Chicago Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals. There seems to be a perfect brew for this to be a great series: the Cubs and the Cardinals have the two best records in the National League; an ace returning from his recent stint on the disabled list (Carlos Zambrano); and a pretty even match up (what with the Cardinals’ less than dominating home record along with the Cubs’ below par road record).

If you are unfamiliar with this rivalry, I can’t think of a better time to start watching. There are many things that Americans will do this weekend to celebrate Independence Day, but I urge you to make time to fit in an inning, a game, or the entire series. And if these teams are not for you at least check out a different form of a game of baseball (whether its professional or not). It’s as American as fireworks, barbeques and Will Smith.

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