From the Archive: March 1, 2006
A former commissioner of baseball, Bart Giamatti, was one of them wax poetic about baseball types. He often talked about baseball as the game of going home, as the cyclical journey of the necessity of leaving home (plate) and striving to ultimately return, only to leave again. Giamatti was also fond of pointing out that the word Greek word 'nostos' means 'returning home', as found in the word 'nostalgia,' which is literally a fondness for returning home, or homesickness.
What is even more amazing to me than the pigeon's ability to return home is that they want, or even need, to. I think the author, Susan Orlean (who was the writer featured in 'Adaptation',) may have been suggesting that the sense that pigeons have that seems to either defy measurement or scientific observation is not just a sense, but a desire, nostalgia, the overwhelming fondness for home. Maybe people like the pigeons for similar reasons for which they like baseball. Maybe pigeons, like good ballplayers, have that special sense that lets them lay off the bad pitches and only take cuts at those that are most likely to let them come back home again. Maybe pigeons watch Nike commercials and want it bad enough.
I dunno. Do pigeon's ever want to leave? Are they happier returning home than when they are home? Are they perpetually prodigal? The at-bat is valuable because of the prospect of ultimately returning- there can be no nostalgia without leaving, if you love something set it free.
I wonder if people will start keeping pigeon's on-base percentage. It wouldn't surprise me, what with the gambling and training and competitiveness of the races. Part of being at home is being somewhere where you're the best, the king of the castle and all that. They could award the most prodigal pigeon, or something.