When the going gets tough, the tough may indeed get going. But the wise look for perspective. They take the long view, hoping to find a sense of continuity that gives the current crisis context. They're looking to defuse anxiety.

And tonight's Major League All-Star Game should serve as a major defuser.

Baseball may indeed be losing its hold on the American imagination (too plodding and methodical for the younger generation, people say), but the game will never lose its foothold in American history.

It is, in a sense, baseball that has been America's barometer.

Looking back over a hundred seasons is a good way to remember the resilience of the nation and take heart in the country's ability to rebound.

War? How about Ted Williams leaving his Hall of Fame career in midstride to pilot fighter planes in World War II?

Economic downturn? Baseball lifted the spirits of the nation during the oppressive weight of the Great Depression.

Ethnic stress? Think Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby.

Social unrest? Demonstrators might have disrupted the Democratic convention in Chicago in 1968, but the band, the White Sox and the Cubs played on. The Cubs even lost the pennant — speaking of continuity.

Of course, All-Star Games are more akin to pageants than playoff games. This evening will be pretty much just a beauty pageant for the Boys of Summer. But if, during the hype and folderol, fans get spirited back to a childhood memory or dream, back to a time when things didn't seen so rough in the world, they may stop wringing their hands for a few moments and applaud.

For if the All-Star Game is still alive and well, baseball is alive and well. And if baseball is alive, so are other grand American institutions that have a history of absorbing blows and moving on. Whatever the country is up against, it has withstood worse.

Like the canary in the coal mine, if the game of baseball is still singing we're not in as bad shape as we thought.

America may be a bit down, but it's coming back.

If not this season, the next.

Or the next after that.