What Do Baseball and Japanese Tea Ceremonies Have in Common?

Almost Everything, As A Matter Of Fact

An Unlikely Pairing

On a recent Summer night, as I was enjoying a home game of our local minor league baseball team, I had an epiphany at the bottom of the fifth inning.

I had run into a friend at the game and she said, “I love baseball, but sometimes it seems so slow.” Others have said the same, of course, but I always felt that was not correct. Why did I not feel as they do? As I pondered that question, fortified by my cracker jacks, I realized why I did not see a slow game.

Seeing With Different Vision

I see baseball differently because to me, the game is much like a Japanese tea ceremony. I am the first to admit I am no expert on that Japanese custom, but I know enough to recognize the similarities.

Think about it. The Japanese tea ceremony is a bastion of tradition and ritual. Every gesture, every choice, every item has meaning. There are countless things going on beyond what is happening at any given moment besides with the tea pot or a cup. The whole thing is a mix of individual actions and a collective whole.

Baseball fans, does any of that sound familiar? Of course it does. What is going on between the pitcher and the batter is only the first level of the game. What are the base coaches doing? What is happening with relief pitchers warming up (or not)? How is the communication between the pitcher and the catcher?

How is the defense positioning itself in anticipation of what is to happen next? What are the fans saying and reflecting? Which players are making moves to the big leagues and which ones know they have already peaked (and many are fine with that – they still played professional ball, every kid’s dream)? What does the atmosphere say about the relationship between the town, the owners and the players?

And on it goes, for countless layers. I am not a big sports fan, but I know enough to say with modest confidence that no other sport has this kind of depth and complexity. The pace of the game can be slow, but that allows one the time to study and to reflect on what is unfolding all around the ball park.

It is fascinating stuff, a delightful mix of athletics, human drama, and unintended consequences. And some of the most interesting data points imaginable. No game uses statistics like baseball.

Play ball! Or Prepare The Tea

If you have not been to a ball game for a while, treat yourself. Get your head into the experience and look around. What do you see now? Of course, you could do the same with a tea ceremony, too.

Maybe I will combine the two. At my next game perhaps I will forego a cold beer for a hot cup of tea. On second thought, scratch that idea.

    Bill Clontz

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4 replies to What Do Baseball and Japanese Tea Ceremonies Have in Common?

  1. Bill, even though I haven’t been to as many as probably 25 baseball games in my life, I always appreciate how slow the game is. For me the similarity seems like watching a ballet, with people leaning either together or in opposite directions in anticipation. We could call it choreography or a choreographed sport? I didn’t encounter the Japanese Tea Ceremony until I met the Dances of Universal Peace and the Sufis almost 25 years ago, and the first few times I experienced tea ceremony I was annoyed with how slow and precise it was. Several years later down the road I began to get the picture. I would never have been able to put tea and baseball together, but it makes perfect sense. Thanks so much!

    • Lucy, what a great comment to share. Good to know someone else sees the connection! See you in the tea room and/or at the ball park.

  2. Baseball can seem slow to the fan – especially the casual fan who hasn’t been exposed to the game’s multi-layered complexity – but for players at the higher levels (including high school, college, and advanced amateur leagues), the game can move at breakneck speed.
    Professional players themselves say the game ‘slows down’ for them as they become more experienced and confident. They are not kidding. There is so much going on between pitches that an inexperienced player will often have trouble processing all of the information he needs in the thirty seconds or so that he has before the pitcher makes his next toss: What’s the score? What inning are we in? Where are the runners? Does this batter pull the ball? How are we pitching him today? What’s the count? What pitch are we likely to see here? How big a lead is the runner getting? Is it too big? How are we defending against the bunt? Can the runner steal a base? Does the defensive coach want us to shift? Where’s the sun? which way is the wind blowing? How are our outfielders playing this guy? Who’s on deck? Is the third base coach giving a sign? Is our catcher giving me a sign?
    And, like Earl Weaver famously said, “We do this every day.”

    • Right you are, Walter. I remember Michael Jordon, one of the greatest athletes of our time, saying the hardest thing he ever tried to do was hit a round ball going 90 MPH with a round bat. A challenging game, indeed.

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