Baseball playoffs bring Aristotle to the plate

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Aristotle, philosopher

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Brian Wilson, pitcher

Editor’s note: With this column her first for The Walla Walla Valley Weekly, Jenny Lemma joins a growing number of community contributors to Walla Walla Union-Bulletin publications who write an a variety of topics in their expertise.

Lemma, born in the Valley, has taught philosophy at Walla Walla Community College since 2011. Her monthly columns will focus on history’s great thinkers and connect their timeless thoughts and observations to the topical, everyday world around us.

Aristotle of ancient Greece and post-season play in Major League Baseball? Yes, there are common threads reaching across 2,000 years of humankind — as her inaugural column shows.

Lemma, her husband Michael and their three sons have lived abroad for the much of the past 10 years while Michael Lemma’s work took them to Germany, Ireland and Scotland. She receieved her bachelor’s degree in philosophy, with a minor in politics and government, from the University of Puget Sound in 1994. She then worked in Pierce County as a YWCA advocate, and from 1994-97 as a domestic violence victims’ advocate with that county’s Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

In 2009, Lemma received her master’s degree in (philosophy? the humanities?) from All Hallows College in Dublin, Ireland.

A popular misconception about philosophy is that it is only for academics. It gets a bad rap for its difficulty, intentional haughtiness and, well, irrelevance.

Every once in a while, however, we philosophers are able to give tangible examples in defense of philosophy’s worth. Happily, we get to point out its importance to everyday life.

October magnificently offers us an opportunity to point out philosophy isn’t just for those dwelling in ivory towers, for snooty intellectuals or for those with too much time on their hands. The month brings philosophy incarnate, wrapped up and bound with beautiful red stitches in passionate yet subtle representations of life: Post-season baseball.

Aristotle used the ancient Greek word eudaemonia, roughly translated as happiness, to describe the essence of contented engagement, the “living in the moment” feeling of enjoying time, space and activity, experiencing a sense of purpose and embracing the simple wonder around us. To simplify, eudaemonia is the optimal state of the human condition. It is, in a nutshell, post-season baseball.

October baseball represents not just a culmination of a season, but also continuity, an ongoing participation in a greater story. We celebrate the greats of the past, we look forward to the successes of the current whiz kids, and we live for the fascinating and improbable action of statistics in motion.

Baseball never has been about immediate gratification or becoming someone else. Rather, it is embracing Aristotelian entelechy, that internal drive to realize potential and become one’s unique self. It is contributing to the greater good by being the best version of one’s own person, recognizing the intersection between talent and sweat.

To the untrained eye, baseball could appear to be an exercise in futility — a Sisyphus-like act of running around the bases without gaining ground. But, to those who love the game, to those baseball-philosophers, it is a constant improvement of the self, an organic balance of community and individuality, a cohesion of past and present, innocence and experience, sacredness and silliness, loyalty and disgust.

October baseball reminds us we decide the lineup in our own quest for happiness. The strength of our contentment isn’t determined as much by what comes off the mound as it is by who is behind the plate to catch it — or for that matter, who is beside the plate to hit it.

Yes, the symbolism is ripe for the picking in October. We are mindful that this ride isn’t much fun without worthy and diverse opposition and we are shown that even the experts require backup in the field. And, once again, we realize there are times in life when we need to lead off to get to where we want to go.

Thank you, October baseball, for the philosophical reminder that it takes a little bit of everything — a bat, a glove, a walk and a run, along with a great deal of guts — to make it around the bases just to arrive back home again.

You’d make Aristotle proud.

Jennifer Lemma is a philosophy instructor at Walla Walla Community College. She can be reached at jennifer.baynelemma@wwcc.edu

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