Sometimes the world can be an unforgiving place. It’s full of strange places, unfamiliar faces and questions for which no answers can be found. Gazing into the murky uncertainty of everyday life, we look for things to keep us from wandering too far into the shadows clouding the edge of our vision.

And so we find our personal rituals, our cultural iconography, our psychological security blankets: the little footholds and well-worn, but somehow never mundane routines, that serve as our ballasts. They have the power to make us feel that no matter how the world is twisting on its axis, we are still on solid ground.

Every one of us has done it. We packed up the tattered old bears that got us through so many midnight thunderstorms and sore throats and brought them to the Hilltop with us. They may not be perched prominently atop our beds, but that isn’t to say that sometimes they don’t come out for a quick hug before diving back into the sock drawer in case a roommate returns unexpectedly.

I freely admit to owning books that have never failed to brighten my mood. So I read them for the first time 10 years ago. So the front covers are all but ripped off. So one of them technically isn’t mine since I stole it from my older brother a decade ago. I figure at some point common law kicks in. And he had just gotten a hardcover copy for his high school graduation anyway.

There are the CDs on which every note is a familiar friend with the power to incite the same reaction thousands of times on command. Identical meals are eaten with clocklike precision before every test, even though they probably don’t increase your score. But better grades or stronger athletic performances aren’t actually the point. The uniformity is what matters; the way certain ceremonies, even though they are predictable, fit like a glove. They create the mindset you need and provide the atmosphere you crave. They soothe frazzled nerves, creating a temporary bubble of calm and continuity.

And these rituals don’t stop at the personal level. If there weren’t any candied apples or corn dogs at a county fair, a riot would break out. No fireworks on the Fourth of July? The seams of our national social fabric might start ripping.

And after firecrackers and fair food, little is held dearer to the American heart than baseball. The game is iconic in the grandest sense. It’s not just the sport or the athletes; it’s the parks and the uniforms and the entire experience of the game, both as a player and a fan.

Last Sunday was the Baltimore Orioles’ last home game of the season and I was there with a few friends. Now I don’t pretend to be much of a “real” baseball fan. I’ve only been to a handful of major league games, and those only since I arrived on the Hilltop. And, yes, part of the reason why we decided to go was to see a post-game performance by a middle-aged and washed up KC and the Sunshine Band. (Hearing them describe themselves to young people in the audience as “your mothers’ Backstreet Boys” alone was worth the price of admission.) But I do know dedication to traditions when I see it.

The Orioles were out of the running for a postseason birth long before their last home stand, and in the wake of Isabel, most of their fan base was still without power, but the game still went on. It wasn’t a terribly memorable game, with Toronto far out of the running and no highlight reel caliber plays or clips for next year’s blooper show. In fact, nothing of note happened at the game. It was what didn’t happen that brought the crowd to its feet with a chorus of boos.

The O’s made the final out of the seventh and the stands twitched with movement, but instead of the usual music streaming out of the speakers, there was something different, something out of place.

As the live performance of “God Bless America” wound to a close, a small child a few rows in front of us turned to his father and asked, “Why didn’t they play `Take Me Out to the Ballgame’ this time?”

“Don’t worry, they will. They always play it at the seventh inning stretch,” the dad said to his son, decked out entirely in orange.

But they didn’t. The players took the field and boos began to echo down from the upper decks. The game meant nothing in the grand scheme of baseball, but the ritual meant everything.

And then something amazing happened. As the catcalls began to die down you could hear a different sound coming from a section of the crowd, standing shoulder to shoulder and moving together as one. The noise got louder as more and more fans joined in until you could hear it clearly, even in our most remote corner of the park. It was the kind of noise that can’t help but make you smile. The kind that seems to say that everything is as it should be.

“Cause it’s one, two, three strikes you’re out at the old ballgame.”

Mary Goundrey is a senior in the College and a Contributing Editor for THE HOYA. The Unforgiving Minute appears every other Tuesday.

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