Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Seasons, Baseball and Otherwise


Well, the Baseball season finally started this past Sunday with the Red Sox beating the Yankees in a dramatic come-from-behind victory. Now despite how fervently I've been waiting for the start of the 2010 season, and despite how much I love to write about baseball, I'm going to avoid the urge and focus on the big picture: how the Baseball season, and other seasons, fit into the year.

The Baseball season encompasses several calendar seasons: it begins in the spring (preseason is called Spring Training), play includes all of summer, and the season ends in the fall (the World Series is colloquially referred to as the Fall Classic). It leaves you to face the cold bleakness of winter by yourself, partly because the sport is "designed to break your heart," but it's also because November through February is no time to be playing games outside - despite protests from NFL fans that it's cool to watch professional athletes slip and slide in the snow and/or pouring rain.

What I like about the Baseball season - other than the fact that there are games to watch every day - is that it takes place completely within the span of one calendar year. Each player only has one year next to the stat line on their baseball card. You can celebrate the New Year (not to mention the Winter Holidays, from Thanksgiving to St. Patty's Day) without the distraction of Baseball on TV. The whole enterprise gives even the average Baseball viewer a profound awareness of beginnings and endings.

And isn't that what Seasons - of sports, of the year, and otherwise - are all about: Beginnings and Endings?

Seasons of the year obviously reflect the life cycle. Spring begins as the weather starts to get nice: plenty of sun and plenty of rain, the two most direct life-supporting aspects in the Universe. The summer gets hot and arid: life can still thrive and produce, but it has to work it. Fall is the decline: the dropping temperatures are comfortable for us warm-blooded mammals, but they also serve as a reminder that the world's natural resources are about to go into hiding. And winter is just plain bleak and desolate.

Now I'm no scientist, but I have it on good authority that the reason for these season changes has something to do with this one goddess being all sad about her daughter having to spend time in the underworld with some other god. Or something like that. I know it involves a lot of math. You can look it up.

The amazing thing about this process is that it happens every year, pretty much the same way, and without fail (so far). It's the ultimate story of beginnings and endings - life, death, and rebirth - on a global scale. It's the ur-mythology, the stuff upon which all our most compelling cultural tales are based. And all's I'm sayin' is that Baseball's schedule reflects this mythology.

Other seasons tell stories too, just not quite as poignant. Football season covers most of the rest of the year when Baseball's not on. NFL games are weekly events, so it makes sense that they coincide with other cultural events: Thanksgiving Day, New Years Day... the Super Bowl.

Basketball season starts in October, clumsily spans fall and winter, then has its post-season in April. I guess when you play your games indoors, you don't have to pay as much attention to the weather.

School season follows much the same format as our second two (lesser) sports. Get kids into the classroom right at the muggiest part of the summer. Split the term in time for solstice celebrations. Give them another little break to welcome in the spring. Then let them out right when it's the most fun to play outside. I heard somewhere that this system was devised to let kids help their families tend crops on the farm, or something? I don't know. You can look that up too, if you want.

Television is another cultural force whose season resembles those outlined above. New series usually premiere in September (unless it has the potential to be a smash hit, in which case it is given a Super Bowl lead-in, like CBS's top rated new reality series "Undercover Boss") - right when kids are going back to school and families are settling into their routines, and thus are more likely to set aside time in their schedules for a weekly program. Finales usually happen right in time for summer, insuring that there are mostly repeats on TV during the months when citizens should be out having fun in the sun. In keeping with the "new life" motif, pilot season (where networks cast and produce new shows) happens in the springtime.

Other ways of dividing up the year are less organically-motivated, such as the "quarter system" utilized by financial institutions when reporting earnings over a fiscal year. I know it's based on the lunar calendar, and it has a nice musical bent in that it divides the year into 4/4 time. But something about it feels a little forced and artificial. Q1: Jan, Feb, March - the tail end of winter and the beginning of spring. Q2: Apr, May, Jun - spring into summer. Q3: Jul, Aug, Sep - end of summer, beginning of fall. Q4: Oct, Nov, Dec - end of fall, most of winter. It just doesn't match up.

But however you slice it up, Seasons are just a way to whittle the year down to a manageable size. Summer, fall, winter, spring, every year, in that order - they're so regular you can set your calendar by them. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, the New Year, or the Winter Solstice, it happens at the same time each year. Whether your sport starts in October or April, whether your team plays 88 or 162 games, you're going to be just as excited about each opening day. It's the cyclical nature of things - life, death, rebirth and all that.

Calendar seasons are a product of the natural world. Other types (fiscal, entertainment, social) are a product of human culture. Just another instance of our species adapting its habits to fit the features of our natural world. Or something like that. You should probably look that up as well.