Will Ferrell’s realization of his baseball dream makes for fans’ sweet reality at Spring Training negating, for an afternoon, all the unfun stuff that goes with professional sport,
By Andrew Pridgen
Arizona is good for two things: 1) Looking around at the red-hued moonrock and imagining that’s what Newport Beach is going to look like in 20 more mega-drought stricken years and 2) Being the first state to soup up and street legalize golf carts, driven on the roads at speeds upwards of 45 miles per hour by co-eds from Arizona State looking for a sunnier way to live off tips.
If Arizona in temperate March is your introduction to the sport where the defense has the ball and batters can call time even though there is no clock, you’re in luck.
Those who’ve never felt the cursed tides turn against the Cubbies in the late-July hot breeze or the sway of Fenway as oxidized iron bolts creak and moan to the eye-rolling rhythm of Neil Diamond on a September Friday may find there is no easier a place to arrive and see and fall in love with the sport than in the shadow of Camelback Mountain.
Will Rogers once said, “I joked about every prominent man of my time, but I never met a man I dident [sic] like.” My paraphrase is probably suited better to today’s man who Will Rogers never had the pleasure to make the acquaintance of, “I never met a man who didn’t love baseball that I didn’t like…but I’ve also never been to Massachusetts in the fall.”
Baseball, because it benefits the bottom lines of rich white men and is played for the betterment of the few in their circles, has always been topped with a heaping meringue of spongy white fluff to disguise the sour aftertaste of the actual product. But for its faults, its strikes, its no salary caps and its cheating scandals, baseball also doesn’t take itself too seriously. Never has. It refuses to reward the aging and no longer quotable superstar who can’t turn it on till playoff time and it doesn’t cause brain damage.
Because of this, it’s our only true sport. Any man worth the salt around his casual Friday work collar can tell you that. And sometimes, it does a little good and makes us feel a little better about being at the shriveling-after-full-bloom end of this inconclusive American experiment.
Yesterday was one of those days.
Will Ferrell Thursday delivered a stunt straight out of Bob Hope’s playbook. His generation’s funniest, the guy who gets to get away with everything, the one in the back of the classroom who figured out school was a waste of his time, and then one day left the desk empty—was showcased in all his authentic boyish splendor.
The man all fear not to love put on 10 different uniforms and smiled, mugged and zing’ed his way through 10 memorable performances—one Spring Training mini-stadium to another, one costume change after the next, one homage to baseball’s cliches and name checks piling up like extra innings on a weeknight—he did it all. From striking out, to calling the game as backstop, to coaching third with the help of cue cards, to arriving in the outfield via helicopter Christian Grey style, only wielding a bigger piece of wood—Ferrell accomplished more yesterday in the name of monkey business and cancer curing than most could in a dozen lifetimes.
In the time of sarcasm and snark rising to the top of your feed, there he was, sincere. Baseball, as difficult as it is to comprehend much less follow 162 games a year, is not a sport to be suffered by cynics. There is a streak of grand American optimism that skips with joy every ground ball, and Ferrell squared up directly in front of it and took one off the chest with delight.
Fact and fiction go together like iced tea and lemonade in baseball. The game is history itself, told only from the victors’ perspective. The story of the loser is a loveable if not untraceable footnote. Baseball is a game of has-beens, never-wases and heroes who did who-knows-what to get there. It’s quirky. We’re quirky.
Quirky to the point that he grasped baseball as the only professional act of sport that would welcome him, coddle him even. Stitching himself in its shopworn fabric. The day became more than an idea for a special or a fundraiser, but the fulfillment of a dream—one millions of us lived with him.
And then it happened. Yes, It happened. During Ferrell’s final feat, taking the mound in a Dodgers uniform, the grin faded. The schtick subsided. And there he was, tall on the hill—taking his warm-ups and throwing one over the plate with a hitchy motion like he was framing a home or stacking wood. It worked, he piped it. The bunt laid down by Padres farmhand Rico Noel was fielded cleanly as if Ferrell himself had left his 47-year-old built-for-comedy body and channeled Koufax, Drysdale, Valenzuela, Hershiser and Kershaw. His soft toss to first and his trot back to the mound meant something, meant everything.
He was there. In it. For that moment, the man who stayed in character and delighted the crowds all day became a better version of himself out there—the one we all dreamed we would be when we put on a pair of baggy stirrup pants and a size-too-large hat for picture day. Right now, Will Ferrell is only man in this country bigger than the game, but his wish—to shrink down and be a part of it—came true anyway.