Battle Station

The stadium scene.
Aug. 30 1997 3:30 AM

Battle Station

The extreme sportsmen who play catcher.

(Continued from Page 2)

Many of the top catchers these days are immigrants--once again filling jobs that native-born Americans are reluctant to do.

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Baseball has never been allowed by the intelligentsia to be simply a game played with a ball--it must always be a metaphor for something grander, like democracy, the re-creation of the Garden of Eden, the rights of the individual vs. the needs of the collective, or whatever. In this annoying tradition, let me suggest that the plight of the catcher is symbolic of a dire trend in American society--call it the decatcherization of daily life. We just don't get dirty like we used to. We don't sweat. We finesse our way out of trouble, using the checkbook, rather than choose a brutal collision and trust that we will hang on to the ball.

We refuse to live uncomfortably, and in so doing lose all sorts of knowledge that can only come with the grit of hands-on labor. The problem with so many jobs in today's economy is not that they pay poorly but that they are vaporous, the mere manipulation of words and symbols and concepts. Michael Pollan, the writer and magazine editor, writes in A Place of My Own about how he had become so disconnected with the physical world that he finally decided to hammer together a writing hut in his backyard, a desperate attempt to make contact with real objects.

The affluent classes are more comfortable than ever--we can barely, dimly imagine the world, just two generations ago, when millions of Americans cherished the Sears Roebuck catalog for its utility as toilet paper. It is now considered normal to travel several blocks or even miles to find a place that charges more than a dollar for a cup of coffee. But what great coffee! We cherish our comfort, our good food, our friendly beverages. In summer we condition our air so that we will not sweat--except when we go to the gym, where we pay someone money so that we can use our muscles. We are outfielders now. We laze about in the grassy fields of life. We wonder if someone will hit us the ball.

Joel Achenbach is a reporter for the Washington Post.

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