A recent acquaintance who has since become a good friend asked me point blank at one point if I was a patriot.
The situation involved my failure to pledge to the flag at a graduation ceremony, wherein the gathered masses in sleeveless t-shirts and Sunday best alike gathered to celebrate the transition from childhood into what passes for real life in these modern times. It has been such a long time since I really pondered the question that some fieldwork was necessary to ascertain an objective response.
Let it be said up front that I have such little working knowledge of sports that it was the only topic I have never explored at length with the Daily Beacon. But like Hunter Thompson, I've found a means to understand the culture surrounding sporting events that can provide more entertainment than what occurs on the field.
Fast forward to Memorial Day, as I sat in the bleachers at Smokies Park in Sevierville for a showdown with the Huntsville Stars and observed once again the masses descending to take part in America's pasttime. Though I went to the game more as moral support for a friend working a booth in the concourse, a certain sickening whimsy came over me.
AA baseball is one of the last bastions of the old sports culture held over from mid-century America of yore. Unlike going to a major sporting event, the crowd is smaller and less of a fanatical pack than a group of die-hard fans and local speculators, with the intermittent voyeur seeking cheap thrills. Smokies Park reminds one of the old open fields with billboards lining the outfield, given a slight modern facelift. Fans sit about in bleachers and field seats alike, and the players are never reduced to ants whose actions necessitate the big screen on the scoreboard to make sense of the direction in which the game is headed.
Thus on a Monday night in Sevier County I saw what is left of the America I love, and to some degree was reaffirmed of its inherent goodness. That is to say that despite many of the token gestures to veterans and repetition of patriotic songs which at times lacked much practical value, the crowd and assembled sports professionals had their hearts in the right place. From the nervous color guard awaiting their big moment of marching on to the field to present the flag, to the young children awkwardly saluting and attempting to find context for the words of civil pride which they spoke, these people undoubtedly meant their pledges and were proud of their heritage as Americans.
In a place where entertainment is the order of business for the day, such displays of patriotism lack the political overtones often ascribed to them by commentators on both sides of the aisle, and indeed offered no support of Obama or Romney or any political hopeful, for that matter. For that day in that field, those kinds of alliances meant little in comparison to the overall feeling of well-being and belonging to a Union.
For the last few political cycles, especially in the wake of 9/11, the term "patriot" has taken on a a pejorative bent, and is either used as a slight or shield for any number sociopathic nationalist ideas. But in effect, pride in the place you live and the people who live there is only natural. It's only natural, then, that a sporting event would exemplify that. A baseball game is like a fairly peaceful war, where progress is tallied in runs and outs instead of victories and confirmed kills. Cheering for the home teams to crush the challengers, however, lacks any of the morally vacant rationalization which pro-war lobbies espouse like gospel. At the end of the day, everyone can go home happy their team won, or hopeful that the next game will end differently.
My immediate response when asked about my patriotism was, of course I love my country, but I love Walt Whitman's America, not Sam Walton's. The inherent glory of the Union and the supremacy of its people inscribed in "Leaves of Grass" doesn't attempt to slag any other body politic as less relevant, but simply the beauty and diverse factors which come together to form our great melting pot give it a singularity unrivaled by any other place on the planet. Now you can buy that diversity in one building at rollback prices, and if our competitor's prices are lower, we will match them to the dollar, guaranteed.
— Jake Lane is a graduate in creative writing. He can be reached at email@example.com.