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Watching Baseball, Playing Softball

A Comparison and Contrast Essay

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The following composition combines a narrative frame with a detailed comparison and contrast.

The essay opens with the narrator waiting for the start of a baseball game on TV, and it closes with an image of him playing softball. In between, the writer develops his comparison using two different methods of organization:

  • the block method (subject by subject), examining baseball in paragraph two and softball in paragraph three
  • the point-by-point method in paragraph four, moving back and forth from baseball to softball
As you read the essay, consider why the writer chose to focus in his conclusion on playing softball.


Watching Baseball, Playing Softball

by Lubby Juggins

We watch baseball: it's what we have always imagined life should be like. We play softball. It's sloppy--the way life really is. I figured that out a long time ago, on a soft summer evening when I was 13 years old and dying of embarrassment in center field as our opponents touched us up for 17 runs in the top half of the first inning. Now, beer in fist, gaping at a blank TV screen as I wait for the first major league game of the season, I'm trying to define just what it is I'm waiting for.

Baseball, we know, is precise, ceremonial. It's a world bounded by foul lines, marked by fixed positions. The playing field is neatly geometric, while the game itself is a linear equation of batters retired and runs batted in. It begins with a song nobody can sing, and it ends with hoarse whispers of "Maybe next year." The story of baseball is like some ancient Greek myth: meet the enemy head on, tour the bases, and eventually head back home, there to be greeted by friends who suddenly recall how much they have missed you. That's baseball.

Now softball is something different. For one thing we play wherever we can, usually on golden fields of dog patties and shattered glass, bounded by city streets and factory parking lots. We start by choosing sides, arguing over who's to be stuck with Artie Magaffe, gimlet-eyed and gimpy, and what we're going to use for home plate. We play until we get too rowdy or the kids drag us home or we lose the ball somewhere between a dumpster and a security fence. And whenever some complacent fool reminds us, "It's only a game, fellas," we come close to lopping his head off because, of course, we know it's a game. Why else would we take it so seriously?

We watch baseball and imagine what it would be like to have the power of Manny, Big Papi, and Johnny D. We play softball and remember that really we're more like Larry, Curly, and Moe. In baseball men are Giants--and Pirates and Tigers and Braves. In softball, at best, we're lug wrenches and nuts in Warren's Electric & Hardware. Or, more often, we're just beer-bellied slobs in Disney World t-shirts and Hooters caps. And while we imagine grandstands thundering with fans, all we've got is a runny-nosed wino chasing unicorns in the outfield, and Sammy's poor wife, squatting on the hood of their Honda, reading Harold Robbins and picking her teeth.

Yet now, as I sit here glaring at the TV, I remember what it is we're all waiting for. That's why I get up, wheezing slightly, go to the closet and root out a stiff old glove signed by Nomar Garciaparra. The laces are missing and all the padding has been squeezed out through a hole in the thumb. I follow my belly across a schoolyard diamond--jackets for bases, a Frisbee for home plate--and I wander out to center field. In front of me a gaggle of obsolete children in middle-age are shagging, groaning, slapping their haunches, hollering "Way to go! Way to go!" I crouch down with my hands on my knees and I wait. I wait for a lopsided ball to come skidding or spinning or bounding my way. And, as ever, I will spend the afternoon fumbling and bobbling and falling flat on my can. I play softball.

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