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The Journey of Love, Baseball, and Understanding

It took years figuring out why I love this silly sport. The answer was surprising.

MLB: Texas Rangers at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

A man may imagine things that are false, but he can only understand things that are true, for if the things be false, the apprehension of them is not understanding.

-Issac Newton

“Why do I love baseball?”

That question has been like a puzzle on the table in the front room of my mind for the last few years. One where the pieces on the edges all fit, but there’s enough missing in the middle that the picture remains nebulous.

That wasn’t always the case. As a youth, the answer skewed more generic and innocent. It’s easier as a child to see a less full frame, a puzzle with less pieces. It’s the big stadiums, the star players, the pureness of sport that inexperience in life provides creating the joy. The love and understanding is often wide, but not deep.

Like all things though, age and knowledge change how we process. It makes these questions harder, as black and white blend to a frustrating gray. Examining the above question on a less superficial level came when opportunities came not just to observe, but to commentate.

An opportunity to be active, to fill those empty spaces with the right pieces.

At first, it was tying my love of the game to my inadequacies outside of it. My first foray into the baseball written word was as a young, misguided teen in college. Away from home and still lacking in fundamental socialization skills not learned as a younger teen, the distance afforded by a screen provided purpose and safety. Diatribes about Yovani Gallardo and Justin Upton stood in for real life discussions, acting as avatars for my existence in society despite my actual attendance being lacking.

As maturity and experience patched the aforementioned holes, time went by without my interjections. My state as a commentator regressed, back to the more fetal form of enjoyment. It became the vaunted and overstated “escape” from my real world responsibilities.

More on that later.

Then a few years ago, the path reappeared but out of tragedy. My father had gotten a cancer diagnosis, and for the first few weeks life became oscillating between an empty house and a soulless hospital room. For someone with already diagnosed depression and anxiety, a new existence of daily misery only further worsened by the fact that I knew how much worse it was for him and my mom. All of that consumed me like the whale which swallowed Jonah.

Then an inadvertent lifeline appeared, in the path of hardball expression finding its way back to my life. Writing on a wood laminate hospital tray about Ian Desmond’s impact on the 2016 Rangers led to more, to diatribes about the wave and Yu Darvish’s greatness.

It was never about those things though. It was about small patches of sunlight trickling into the windowless cell life constructed with its unflinching hands. It meant hours pouring over stats, conferring with like-minded others, thinking about one thing in a desperate attempt to avoid others. Solace it represented, a respite from the reality around me.

There’s that escape theme again.

This continued for a couple years, while adding on a new feature: enlightenment. Switching writing homes meant new colleagues, all smarter than me. A challenge to prior knowledge, exposing more of that which wasn’t already possessed. It created new challenges with great people, a pleasing intersection filled with creativity and kinship.

Even then, with time that faded. Not the parts of fraternal interaction, but the core purpose. The puzzle had plenty of pieces on the outside, more than before, but the initial conflict remained. The picture still unclear, the question left unanswered.

Attempts to put it into words, efforts to understand why this thing drew my affection above all other things eluded my grasp. Like trying to hold smoke, it slipped into the ether after every well meaning and well thought out effort. Something blocked, something inhibited the ability to understand this.

Once the realization came though, that moment of clarity snapped in place. An epiphany built on years of failure and perspective, for how else could someone discover this reality without those things.

My love of baseball comes not because it is separate from our world, but because it’s a part of it in every way. Just a safer way.

Baseball has all the things we see around us every single day. From the elation of legends taking their place in history, to the sadness of tragedy piercing through our everyday melancholy reminding us how short our time is on this little blue dot.

We see young players grow up under the bright lights, while others never make it past single level stadiums. We see smart people succeed, while mediocre people continue to fail up. Large paychecks and wage suppression intermingle in the same space, two dueling dragons with no end to their century plus long struggle. The same sort of battle rages with celebration and repression, two sides colliding daily.

Imagine baseball like looking at our own world, but through a nearly translucent crystal. It’s a sandbox for us to play in, giving us as observers risk free opportunities to examine life’s cornucopia of good and bad largely consequence free. It can be a distraction or “escape,” but truly only for those who understand that you’re escaping to a similar place with lower stakes.

To pay off the initial tease, I love baseball because I love the world around me as well. Neither are perfect, and in plenty of cases they can both be consumed with the ugliness of hate and darkness that makes people lose faith in what’s around them. It is, as said already, not black and white but an ever shifting hue of gray depending on what it looks like every day when we wake up.

Yes, it’s difficult at times to love baseball just like it’s hard to look around the world without issuing a sigh of frustration and borderline hopelessness every so often. Then there are days that bring sunshine through the malaise, drops of hope that restore the good feelings reminding why this is worth it.

The puzzle of baseball will never be finished, because it’s not real. Instead baseball is just one small corner of life’s puzzle, and that we can see quite clearly. It’s not standalone, but instead one part of this thing we call life. It’s another way to help us shuffle through this existence, giving us ways to figure that all out. Letting us feel joy, pain, and experience in ways that come largely without long reaching and meaningful consequences.

Which is why I’m here specifically, in this space among this new audience. You all love this game for different reasons than I, in different ways with different intensities. We all exist in the same space though, on the same globe that houses our variety of loves in a single all encompassing place. I want to share all that with you, this shared experience of baseball and life.

We will disagree, we will fight, and just maybe we’ll get along sometime along the way. This shared community, this shared love of ours is a bond defined not by distance or any discriminating qualities but by our own choice. We are brought together by it, strengthened by it, and together it should let us overcome all struggles because of that common ground.

Let’s finish this puzzle of life together, starting with that one space that we’ve already put together.