In honour of the onset of spring and the imminent start of the 2008 season of major league baseball (and to a lesser/greater extent, of my acceptance into the final sphere of nerd-dom, a fantasy baseball league), I want to urge both of you reading this blog to watch Ken Burns' absolutely superb Baseball (1994) documentary.
Granted, it is a bit of a commitment (coming in at over 20 hours total), but it is so engrossing that each 2+ hour episode ("cleverly" divided into innings) seems to fly by. And the best part is, you don't have to be a baseball fan to enjoy it. Even my girlfriend (despite what you may think, I do NOT have to inflate her with air) looks forward to "the baseball show". I find something similar in all of Burns' work - regardless of your familiarity with the subject matter, it is always riveting. His mix of mass appeal and esoteric facts is unparalleled in the documentary realm. There's a reason he's so popular.
I still haven't finished the series (I've just completed the sixth inning), but there are already many, many highlights - current on-camera interviews with a platoon of baseball journalists, ex-players, coaches, managers, broadcasters - Ted Williams and the Negro Leagues' KC Monarchs star Buck O'Neill are a treat - and the whole thing is a joy to watch. And if you don't tear up at Lou Gehrig's simultaneous admission of defeat and his will to carry on, check your pulse. I can't wait to finish the series, but I want it to go on forever.
Its reach does not exceed its grasp - though the scope is vast, Burns gets it right. Baseball is not just a sport, not just trivial entertainment; it is an integral part of North American society, often running parallel to or augmenting current affairs. What it all comes down to, though, episode after episode, is the ecstasy of the game. Politics, world wars, personal strife - cast it all aside, boil it down, reduce it; what matters most is the joy of hitting a home run off the ace, striking out the slugger, playing catch at dusk on a perfect summer evening, straining to hear the play-by-play through the transistor radio's static. Can it be so simple? It can, and Burns shows us how. Play ball!