A Soothing Stress
I am a rookie stepping into the batter’s box for the first time. I have worked hard for my entire professional career to prove myself. I put up more than respectable statistics in the minors. The pitcher has read my scouting report, but he does not know how hard I have worked to get to this point. He does not care that I have worked to improve every aspect of my batting stance. Being a good baseball player is not just about good statistics. You have to have the work ethic too, not to mention the passion. Right? …Right?
“He’s gonna throw me a fastball,” I thought. “I know he is gonna throw me a fastball, and I’m gonna hit it out of the park. Opposite field, too.” Here is the pitch.
Swing and a miss.
The count is 0-1.
I started to panic. I told myself I wouldn’t, but I couldn’t help it. That was the first pitch I saw in the majors, and I missed. I did not put all that hard work in for that.
“Just because you didn’t hit the first pitch out of the park, doesn’t mean it’s over.” That’s what my manager in Triple-A said to me yesterday after I got called up. He knows me really well.
“He threw a curveball at you, that’s all,” I thought to myself. I don’t have any kind of control over the type of pitch he throws. I can’t make him throw a fastball just because I want it to be one. I know I can hit the off-speed stuff. The pitcher went back into his windup.
Did I hit the second pitch? Did I look in the indifferent, almost cruel pitcher’s eyes? Maybe even wink at him? Did I keep my hands in, my head down? Maybe. But I wasn’t thinking about my mechanics when I swung. That was my mistake the first time. I just have to feel it. If the ball comes to my bat, my bat hits the ball. Mechanics, statistics, they’re all irrelevant at this point. It has to be the right pitch. “Wait for your pitch,” they say. Was this my pitch? You will find out in about eight days when I hear back from UNC Chapel Hill.
I like baseball for a lot of reasons, but perhaps what I like most is that it takes your mind off things. Baseball is perfect because you can truly care about it even though it does not directly affect you. It indirectly affects you. Yes, baseball certainly affects my mood, and sometimes when I talk about the Red Sox, I use the pronoun “we.” But in reality, whether the Red Sox win or lose does not affect weather I win or lose.
For a lot of people baseball is a security blanket because it will be there for 162 days from spring to fall. It’s something you can count on, and that’s comforting when we live in a world where the only thing that is certain is that things are uncertain. Baseball calms me down, but not really. It’s a soothing stress. I stress out about the game instead of stressing out about five page papers. When I watch baseball, I flee my harsh reality, and I’m transported to this almost pseudo-reality.
Watching baseball is like reading fiction. You follow nine protagonists. A player’s career is his character development. We all fall in love with the players, the team, and above all the game itself. Their adventures become yours and it becomes life and death. There are heroes, there are villains, and there are obstacles. Like us, they are human, and we are able to relate to them on some level. We follow them until the end of their careers, and we are ecstatic when there is an epilogue. When you read, you are transported to this fantastical land that you only wish was real. When you watch a baseball game, you are transported to the pseudo-reality. When I watch a baseball game, the field is my Middle Earth.
There is no baseball when I hear back from the majority of my schools. It has been there during AP weeks, final exams, paper deadlines, and collapsed-Physics-bridges. Perhaps most importantly, it served as an inspiration for many of my college essays. It kept me sane on the verge of insanity. But it has abandoned me when I need it most.
I had to face rejection on my own. Baseball was not there to distract me. I cannot escape the panic attacks, lack of appetite, and restless nights. I have not been able to flee to my pseudo-reality. I have not been able to follow my protagonists’ problems instead of my own.
Angelo Bartlett Giamatti once said, “It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone.”
It is cruel that there is no baseball this time of year. I have faced the cruelties of the fall alone, and I look forward to the spring. Baseball will restore my sanity–and all of yours–when it begins again. Hope will be renewed, and perhaps mine will be too. And until then, I’m just waiting for my pitch.