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Plato’s Cave: A 2020 Baseball Allegory

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Shadows versus reality

Minneapolis Cityscapes And City Views

In an ancient philosophical dialogue between Plato and Socrates, the two vaunted thinkers discussed an allegory of a cave of prisoners:

A group of people have been chained in a cave their entire lives. They face a blank wall and only see the shadows projected onto it from objects passing in front of an unseen fire. To the prisoners—who have never seen the outside world—the shadows are all they know, yet those shadows do not accurately portray reality.

This scenario was used to illustrated the goal of a philosopher to both perceive and understand higher dimensions of reality. It was also a warning in that the prisoners have no desire to leave their cave, as it is all they know of the world.

That allegory holds up remarkably well some 1,500 years later as a way to describe watching baseball in the year 2020.

Watching baseball on television—or listening to it over the airwaves—is one plane of reality. Quite literally, in the case of TV, it is the shadows dancing on the cave wall. For those who know of nothing else, it would perfectly suffice until the end of time.

The problem, of course, is that baseball fans are currently experiencing the cave allegory in reverse. For years, we experienced baseball on both physical and second-hand levels. In 2020, we were put back into chains and forced to subsist on cave wall shadows. A plane of reality, to be sure, but not an elevated one. Every time we yelled out in cheers/angst and got a reproach from the neighbors instead of a high five, or were given, say, Byron Buxton’s StatCast sprint speed without having seen it with our own eyes, this was readily apparent.

While watching Twins games this season, I found myself more distracted than usual (a phenomenon that has continued into the current postseason). Though my love for the sport hasn’t waned, I’ve simply felt disconnected by a lack of beholding its presence in the flesh. It’s kind of like how, during a long Minnesota winter, we know the warmth of the sun is out there somewhere. But until that first glorious day actually arrives where the clouds part and the thermometer rises, we don’t 100% believe it is a reality.

In 2020, that “baseball reminder”, of sorts, never transpired. Instead, we were simply left to “imagine the previous summer” instead of fully experiencing the one at hand. I’ve long held that until I get to my first Twins game each year, the season doesn’t feel “real” to me. I need to use all my senses to experience the product and remember why it can produce such thrills.

Perhaps it can be instructive to imagine the experience from the eyes of a child. For example, I could show my 4-year old niece baseball being played on TV until she begs me to put on Frozen II. But the first time she walks into Target Field? I’m sure she’ll be awed. Again, a different plane of reality.

The great thing about baseball, of course, is how such childlike wonderment never really leaves fans. For all but the most cynical of observers, every trip to the ballpark contains a little bit of wonder & awe. Such magic is what this 2020 season has been missing, and what I desperately hope 2021 can recapture.