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  • Under the last sunset of the summer, we watched the Wichita Wingnuts wipe out the Saint Paul Saints, and pondered how it was that any of us learned the game of baseball. Not as players, but as spectators, participants in the great American pastime.

    I cannot remember a time without the delicious anticipation of a full count, and the young pity for a pitcher walking off the mound. Total humiliation, I imagined, right there in living black and white. I remember, too, the designated listener - the lucky one entrusted by our sixth grade teacher with transistor radio, earpiece and permission to give us world series updates throughout the afternoon. And I remember my father on the beach taking long swings at the hot summer air, telling the gathered children that the "B" on his cap stood for Boston, which I interpreted more as heroic bravado than a lie.

    But I cannot remember how I absorbed the complicated rules or the love of a game that I never learned to play. Nor could anyone around me last night. We agreed that as a game, baseball is nearly impossible to explain to a visitor. Among us, we have tried to crack the code for Bosnians, Chinese, French and Romanians. It does not translate. It is just there, all of it, one of those rare things that makes us a single nation with a single history and a single heart.

    The Saints' home field lies in the industrial middle land of our city and our country, where long train engines routinely drown out the crack of a ball. Transporting grain from west to east and coal from east to west, they rumble through dusk and along the outfield fence. The crowd waves and cheers for the engineer to sound the horn, even as a Wingnut steals second base without remark. Beyond the trains are the barns and tilt-a-whirls of the State Fair, and to the side, the tower where the city's firemen take their practice runs. As "American" as baseball, this idyllic Midwestern scene beneath the rising moon.

    Yet as my grandson watches and learns the game beside me, his town has become 30% Hmong (Laotian), a population that has arrived and thrived in waves over the past thirty years. Undoubtedly, their absorption of the myth and rules of baseball has taken hold in much the same way as every immigrant culture before them - a mystery to the first generation even as it is part of the air their children breathe. And when their children's children sit beside my own in these very stands some day, they will wonder, too, how they ever came to love this American game.
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