by Chris Foss
With sagging World Series numbers and occasional talk of contracting teams and reducing the number of regular season games, questions about the future of baseball in the United States seem legitimate. But if its recent history in Latin America and Japan is any indication, baseball has a bright global future. Furthermore, according to Star Trek, that bright future is also galactic in reach. As the venerable sci-fi franchise celebrates its 50th anniversary, I explore the connections between Trek and baseball. Normally seen as a synonym for “nerd”, Star Trek nonetheless might teach us something about the macho, tobacco-spitting, spitball-throwing pastime of middle America.
An early, non-promising appearance for baseball on Star Trek was in an episode of The Next Generation in which the android Data is captured by Kivas Fajo, a collector of knick-knacks who swindles and steals things, including a rare baseball card. Fajo is portrayed as a narcissistic psychopath, hardly the greatest ambassador for the game in the 24th century. This scene would suggest that baseball was doomed to be a fringe sport, remembered only by the galaxy’s loons.
Baseball’s reputation was resuscitated, however, in the next Trek series, Deep Space Nine (aka DS9), where the commander of the eponymous space station, Benjamin Sisko, uses his love of the game to get out of a pinch. At the same time, he reminds us why many of us love sports in the first place. In the show’s pilot episode, Sisko is taken hostage inside a wormhole by beings known as the Prophets, who are either aliens, or gods, depending upon one’s point of view. The Prophets live outside of linear time, and therefore have no rational basis on which to negotiate with Sisko, who has unwittingly invaded their home. They find Sisko’s way of living baffling—how does linear time work, they wonder? The commander uses a basic demonstration of the psychology of baseball to explain the concept of time.
Using the Prophets’ unexplained method of shifting back and forth between different settings, they travel to a Field of Dreams-like park where Sisko goes into the game’s mentality. The most important thing for the Prophets to know about baseball is “it’s linear.” A batter “might swing and miss. He might hit it. The point is, you never know.” But interestingly, the Prophets turn this concept around on Sisko to teach him—and us—a thing or two about our linear existence as well. “If all of this is true, then why do you exist here?” they ask him, as the background shifts from the baseball diamond to a memory of Sisko’s wife’s death three years earlier. The guilt and rage he feels about having abandoned her to save his own life during an attack on his ship is something many of us, sadly, can relate to. The episode leaves us wondering uncomfortably, then, if baseball is just an escape, a way we “move on” in our lives, even as we are stuck confronting our demons in real life.
The game has another, more hopeful message, however, as Sisko fights through his grief and manages to both face his past and come to an understanding with the Prophets. Humans venture into space to meet beings like the Prophets, “not to conquer you with weapons or technology,” but to coexist and to learn. In this way, baseball helps get the traditional Trek message of utopian peace and justice across, playing an integral role as a tool of cultural exchange.
We eventually learn that the World Series will come to an end in 2042, when just 300 fans attend the final game. But baseball remains a presence on the show as Sisko is ultimately accepted as the “Emissary” of the Prophets to the people of the nearby planet of Bajor. For spiritual guidance, Sisko keeps a baseball on his office desk throughout the show’s run as his most cherished keepsake. It’s symbolic of something more than just a game: when, for example, an invading army captures the station during the show’s fifth season, Sisko defiantly leaves his baseball in the office, a clear message that he will return and recapture his station, his field of dreams.
At the end of the next season, however, Sisko’s faith in baseball and in the Prophets is shaken when an evil Pah-Wraith invades the wormhole and engages in a war against them. Needing “to find answers” the captain leaves the station for Earth—only this time, he takes the baseball with him, not sure if he will return. After several months of peeling potatoes, playing the piano, and making people wonder if he is off his rocker, it is the baseball which leads him back to the Prophets. When it falls off the piano during a gig, Sisko goes to pick it up, and is flooded with a vision of a woman which turns out to be his mother. We ultimately learn that Sisko is, in the Herculean and Judeo-Christian tradition, the son of a human father and a female Prophet. Thus he is half-man, half-god, but at the same time wholly man and wholly god. This is a heady place to which 24th century baseball has led us.
But baseball on DS9 isn’t solely a symbol for the conflict between our linear existence and the mysteries of the cosmos from which we sprang. In one episode, Sisko’s son Jake and friend Nog try to lift Dad out of a bad mood by winning a Willie Mays rookie card at an auction. They are outbid, however, by Elias Giger, another bizarre collector who likes baseball, but whose main goal in life is to develop a machine to slow down peoples’ cellular decay to the point where they will not age. This is a wacky proposition even by this show’s standards and is used to comic effect. Jake and Nog spend the episode trying to help the eccentric Giger get equipment for his Wizard of Oz-esque project in order to obtain the card. It works out in the end, brightening Sisko’s spirits.
Perhaps baseball’s most memorable outing on DS9, however, is an episode in which Sisko’s crew are challenged to a game by an all-Vulcan team (Mr. Spock’s race from the original series) led by an arrogant captain named Solok who treats the captain with contempt. Years earlier at the Academy, Sisko had challenged Solok to a wrestling match, angry at Solok’s constant taunting of him and other human beings as inferior to Vulcans. Sisko lost the match, and Solok has rubbed it in his face ever since. Now he wants to culminate years of torment by beating Sisko at favorite game.
The cast of DS9 regulars (the “Niners”), alas, proves no match for the Vulcans, and Sisko is reduced to watching his not-ready-for-prime-time-players from the stands after he gets ejected for making contact with the umpire. On their own, however, the team comes up with a novel solution. Trailing 10-0 late in the game with a runner on, they send into the game Rom, a backup player Solok saw Sisko get steamed at in an earlier practice for poor play. Against the odds, Rom scores the runner on with a sacrifice fly, sending the Niner dugout into a frenzied celebration. A disbelieving Solok then himself gets tossed for touching the ump while protesting the celebration. Even though the Niners technically lose, their celebration is an argument for the pride behind the game as being even more important than a win-or-loss outcome.
In the end, Star Trek’s certainly not a classic on the level of Field of Dreams, and it’s nowhere near as funny as Rookie of the Year. In its own sober, sometimes preachy way, though, DS9 makes a solid contribution to the ranks of film/TV representations of baseball. As with many other shows steeped in the mythology of the game, DS9 shows that it’s not wins or losses, but the journey, that matters. Sometimes the journey leads you to become a god, not unlike the near-immortal status it seemed Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were heading toward the same summer that “Take Me Out to the Holosuite” was filmed. At other times, however, and on a level that’s much more relatable to sports fans, it’s just about enjoying the simple, linear pleasures of baseball. I wonder, though, if in the future, there really will be anyone left who collects baseball cards.
 “The Most Toys,” Star Trek: The Next Generation, aired May 7, 1990.
“The Emissary,” Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, aired January 3, 1993.
 “If Wishes Were Horses,” DS9, aired May 16, 1993.
 “A Call to Arms,” DS9, aired June 16, 1997.
 “Tears of the Prophets,” DS9, aired June 17, 1998.
 “Shadows and Symbols,” DS9, aired October 7, 1998.
 “In the Cards,” DS9, aired June 9, 1997.
 “Take Me Out to the Holosuite,” DS9, aired October 21, 1998.