Is Baseball America's Shinty?
by Michael Ross Bentley (7/4/2014)
4 July 2014 - This week a local radio journalist was talking about the association between baseball and the 4th of July. He rather eloquently connected our "National Pastime" with Independence Day, how our summer game is both played and watched on this day in so many communities, providing a connection and common experience across the many layers of our society. I was struck by his words and, not for the first time, thought about the similarities between how baseball and shinty fit into their respective cultures.
When explaining the ancient Scottish sport at our Highland Games booth, I have often used the comparison to baseball to try to explain how shinty fits into Highland life. The New Year's Day matches were community events, as are the 4th of July picnic baseball games. As children we watch, as young adults and adults we play. And when we're not playing we are eating and drinking with our friends and family.
"It's the game my father taught me" said actor and comedian Billy Crystal in Ken Burns' documentary on baseball. The same would be said by many shinty players today. The sports link generations, they bring villages together.
Baseball has been played in America for over 200 years, and in a recognizably similar form for well over a century. This might be a drop in the bucket compared to the two millennia of shinty, but suffice to say baseball came of age along with the United States, and in that process merged with our own identity and mythology. By the mid-1800s every little town had its own team, and there were dozens if not hundreds of competitive leagues throughout the country. Baseball is the sport I grew up playing and loving most of all, and if asked what sport is the sport of my culture, baseball would be my answer.
Although the intent of baseball's early organizers was to keep the sport an amateur one, soon enough there were professional teams. How that has changed the sport and it's role in society would fill many pages, but in this baseball reflects the complexities of the culture from whence it came. And likewise shinty.
The development, struggles, and growth that shinty is currently experiencing do seem to parallel similar dynamics in Scotland as a country and culture. The referendum debate has brought many issues into sharp relief and is giving Scotland a chance to redefine itself in one of a number of different ways. Pro-independence or pro-union, every Scot has an idea of what makes their country and culture unique and special. I feel that shinty is one of those precious aspects of Scottish culture, and I hope that it thrives in whatever country awaits it after September 18th.
For now, we can all celebrate our heritage and traditions, whether with baseball or shinty, and enjoy our culture - past, present, and future.