Baseball and the Catholic Church. These are two institutions which need to do their utmost to maintain a connection to their fabled, if flawed and fictive, past. If someone were making the case for a new religion or a new sport today neither would garner a great deal of interest from a venture capitalist.
Baseball is too slow, insufficiently violent, cannot be dominated by a single superstar (BUT with the intentional walk can be managed so as to avoid a superstar) has games that can go on forever and ever, and has a season fully 10x longer than football and twice as long as hockey and basketball.
The Catholic Church starts with a text in which its foundation myth and creation myth contradict themselves repeatedly, is replete with morbid doctrinal woo such as crackers becoming divine flesh which must be consumed, clearly places women in a secondary subservient status, maintains an anti-gay stance losing in popularity, and has an archaic hierarchical structure which only allows access to men who are willing to completely forgo marriage, family, and, in theory, sex.
Baseball made the mistake in the 1960’s and 1970’s of going too far in trying to upgrade their stadiums (“stadia” if you prefer) and placed a game of bucolic country charm in cavernous plastic and metallic industrial hollows. I simply couldn’t watch most National League games while I was growing up. Three Rivers Stadium? Riverfront? They made the game unwatchable. The designated hitter meant nothing to me, so what if a guy who was better at doing what a hitter does was hitting in place of a guy who probably couldn’t?
With Camden Yards baseball’s new “parks” got back to a traditional design which better connected the beauty, grace and history of the game to its environs. Doing so has given teams which have built these historic looking new parks a boost in attendance which has lasted up to 10 years. I’m not arguing, by the way, that it is worthwhile for communities to fund new ballparks, I am arguing that getting away from the connection to the past in the way baseball did with the multi-use stadium of the mid twentieth century was a mistake for the game.
In this region the Catholic Church insists on tearing down its iconic old churches, usually for the real estate value of the property. (For some reason the local diocese has found itself in need of enhanced revenue.) Catholic Church attendance along with self identification are plummeting in ways baseball never experienced even in the 70’s. I’m the last person the church would ever take advice from, not least because in terms of its dogma I would just as soon see it wither and die. That said we can make common cause in this one area because the one element of the local Catholic Church I would like to see survive are its historic buildings, and I honestly believe that restoring, maintaining, and using those older structures will actually help the faith hold on for longer than it otherwise would. Perhaps even demanding adaptive reuse for historic properties instead of allowing demolition could be viewed as a subtle form of subliminal marketing: come back for the beauty and stability embodied in this structure.
In my neighborhood this was torn down:
Thankfully historic preservationists and the city joined together, created a local historic district, and saved this beautiful building.
As a friend of mine in Spain once said about the Boston Garden being torn down: “Vosotros que no tenéis historia destruís la historia que tenéis.”
May this not be true of us moving forward.