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Sherman Says: Explaining an American pastime

When New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter announced earlier this year that he would retire at the end of the season, many fans started making plans to see him play one more time. Last weekend, I saw him play two more times.

Three sets of fathers and sons from Western New York made the journey to the Bronx for games Friday night and Saturday afternoon at the “new” Yankee Stadium, which replaced its famed predecessor in 2009. In fact, there were 42,245 there for the first game of the extended weekend.

Sitting in the row immediately behind us were a French-speaking man and woman, who had a fairly good understanding of English. What they lacked was any understanding at all of America’s national pastime.

Between them sat an American man who patiently tried to answer all of their questions about the game.

When a batter came to the plate for the second time that night, the scoreboard displayed information about his earlier appearance. As he had been up to the plate once before, and safely got a hit, the scoreboard read, “1-1, single.” The woman behind us asked her American friend, “So this man, he is unmarried?”

Several concepts were difficult to explain. Take, for example, the fact that a team can score all the runs it wants before accumulating three outs. Other sports have a cap on success.

“So, this is not like a tennis match?” she asked.

The dimensions of the diamond came up during the early innings, with one out in the top of the second, to be specific. The American man was explaining how the long white lines on either side of the field were the boundaries of play.

“You have to hit the ball between those lines, or out of the park,” he said.

At that very second, Oswaldo Arcia of the Twins drove the ball into the second level in right field, and my son and I said in unison, “Like that.” It was timed perfectly.

Later, when someone hit a ball into the seats near third base, she exclaimed, “Outside!” She was advised that the correct term was “foul,” but she was learning fast.

She innocently called the bases “white squares,” as if they were somehow related to the boxes on a chess board. We are still referring to baseball as the “game of white squares” in our house and may do so forever.

The man she came to the game with shelled out $20 for a blue metal bucket of popcorn. He asked fewer questions, but seemed equally intrigued.

Jeter drew the most applause, each time he was introduced. The American host’s simplified explanation was, “He is very famous.” He may have well said, “He’s kind of a big deal.” I would have mentioned that he has more than 3,300 hits, that he was the American League rookie of the year in 1996, that he has 50 hits in 37 World Series games and that his 2014 salary is $12 million. That’s a lot of Euros.

I noticed they left the stadium prior to the seventh inning stretch, which may have proved problematic to explain. But, with the Twins leading 4-1 at that point, they may have felt the outcome was a fait accompli.

Who knew that in February 1914, the Chicago White Sox and the New York Giants played a series of games in Paris in an effort to launch a European league? The outbreak of World War I four months later put the damper on that idea.

I really enjoyed everything about the trip to New York. Looking back, at least one word in the French language is a perfect fit for American baseball. It is the French word for “memory.”

To paraphrase one of my favorite lines from the film “Field of Dreams” – “The ‘souvenirs’ will be so thick, they’ll have to brush them away from their faces.”

David F. Sherman is managing editor of Bee Group Newspapers and a columnist for the Weekly Independent Newspapers of Western New York, a group of community newspapers with a combined circulation of 286,500 readers. Opinions expressed here are those of the author. He can be reached at

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