Baseball is back. It may not be the best idea. I don’t know, I’m not an expert.
Anyways, I’m going to watch. It’s been a long nine months without baseball. To be fair, five of those months weren’t supposed to have any. But in normal times during those other months, I would have been watching almost every night.
I wouldn’t have watched every game. That’s just not what baseball is. You can’t do it. But it would have been my default. I’d get home from school or work and put on the game. It would be there every night. Sometimes I’d have plans, friends to go meet, other things to do. I’d look forward to those nights. But most nights I wouldn’t have plans. That would be okay, though, because baseball would be there.
At 7:30 I’d throw on Fox Sports South and watch the Braves. I’d eat dinner in front of the tv. I’d text my friends. We’d speculate and laugh and get mad in the group chat. Baseball would give me an excuse to connect, to share an experience every night.
I’d pay as much attention as needed. Tension would rise and fall with the tides of a lineup; I would float with it. The top of the order would bring hope eternal or impending doom; the bottom would bring a respite for reading or chores. In my version of the game, every ninth hitter was an automatic out. One side earns a break; the other confronts an obstacle. Amid the anonymity of the other team, I’d know the ninth hitter when I saw him. I’d recognize him as the pitcher, or at least because he wasn’t a hitter. Either way, it would be a signal. The break is over, time to get serious.
When the game was over, I’d go to bed. Sometimes I’d be satisfied. Sometimes I’d be frustrated. If I was satisfied, then I’d go to sleep thinking about how great another win would feel. If I was frustrated, then I’d go to sleep while counting down the hours until the next night when we’d set things right. Win or lose, it would be okay, because there’s always the next night.
If things had gone well, I’d zone out in class or at work while studying the standings. I’d recapture some of that satisfying feeling watching the Braves move higher. If things hadn’t gone well, I’d ignore the standings. I’d go to other stats and find numbers that captured some of the feeling. Sometimes I’d have to dig deeper, but I’d find something. Something cool, something hidden. Some meaning, some link. And then I’d text my friends who cared and share it.
It was getting easy to find that feeling. Not long ago it had been a lot harder. I’d have to find numbers from places like Gwinnett, Mississippi, or Rome and dream of the future. I’d text friends about those numbers from smaller places and dream of the future together. But this year it was supposed to be easy. It would be in the present. And it would be there almost every night.
Every night would be one page of a story. With each page I’d grow more invested. Narrative arcs would form and characters would develop. Heroes would rise, fall, and climb their way back. Heels would surprise me with hidden depth. Sometime I’d just skim a page and catch the box score. But I wouldn’t want to skim too many pages for fear of missing signs of narrative shift or character development. And there’s always the chance for a memorable side quest amid the doldrums. There’d be something new every night. There would be baseball.
But then there wasn’t. We were getting close, but before I could blink, it was gone. And we didn’t know when it would be back. At the same time we lost plans, I lost my default. I lost my excuse to text friends. I lost that search for feeling every night, and I lost that distraction every morning. In place of the distraction, I followed the real world. I saw things I hadn’t seen well enough before. I worried more about things I’d been seeing for a while. I was angry and anxious. I’d lost the rhythm of baseball, and the feeling was gone.
So I had to recreate the feeling in other ways. Jeopardy was on at 7:30 night. Until it was gone too. But I’ll never run out of books. So I looked forward to those every night. Baseball friends became book friends. When the book was good enough, I’d find the feeling. I’d text my friends about the stories. I’d go to bed thinking about them. I’d find meaning in them. Sometimes I’d find something in the stories that would connect them to other stories, and those stories would give each other more meaning. What a feeling! Then I’d text my friends who cared and share that feeling. I found a rhythm without baseball.
Now baseball is back. But what about its rhythm?
What happens when the real word doesn’t fade away? What if I turn on the game each night, and what I see only emphasizes the fear and anxiety I want to escape?
What happens when the structure of the story changes? They’re only playing sixty games. Will there be space for plot lines to emerge and fade away, for characters to develop? Will the story feel as meaningful when I miss a whole chapter instead of just a page? When a loss means so much more, will the promise of the next night keep me going?
What happens when the game is different? The National League is using the designated hitter. Will the turn of a lineup feel as prominent without a pitcher? Will I feel the rhythm of the tides without a landmark to mark their rise and fall? There will be more runs. Will I understand the tension of a moment, whether a run is part of a story, or the story?
What happens when the numbers lose their meaning? Only playing sixty games. What happens when sample size doesn’t matter? When a slump is a season, how will I evaluate what I see? How do I find meaning in numbers when I don’t know how to connect them to the past? How do I tell stories with those numbers? There will be more runs. The scale of the numbers will shift. Normally I can look at a score – just two numbers – and know how that game felt. Was it action-packed, or was it a slow burn? I can look at an earned run average — just one number — and know how a pitcher is doing. I’ll have to learn a new scale. That’ll be okay. Just different.
It’s a different game, but it’s also a different time. Baseball will still be my default, but will I still find that feeling? I hope so. Or will baseball just seem like a distraction from more important things? Will it feel satisfying to cheer on players I love when their safety, and their families’ safety, are at stake? If we get past that, will a season feel meaningful when the numbers are off and the season could get cut off at any point? But hey, it’s still baseball. Right?
There’s a rhythm to baseball. It’s in the nature of the game. In the cycle of a lineup, in the rising and dying hopes of every revolution. It’s in the day-to-day of the fan. In watching the game, in the rising and dying hopes of every inning. It’s in the story of a season. In the ebb and flow of series after series, in the rising and dying hopes of every streak.
Baseball is back. But what about its rhythm?