I start watching baseball in my older sister’s apartment during Baltimore’s spring. It’s not for entertainment—every day, I breathe and sigh and occasionally eat and I am tired of it; for three hours, I would like not to exist. Baseball, with its droll and stretched–out minutes, offers that reprieve.
The past few months have been torrid. To put it gently, I am not okay. To put it frankly, my suffering feels sharp in the moment—sobbing myself to a headache and then to sleep, fighting a scream from Philly to Jersey to Philly to Jersey to Baltimore—but after a few months pass it will soften into a blur, pathetically simple in retrospect: I feel bad more often than I feel good.
It doesn’t take very much to set me off these days. Investment in another sports team beyond the Flyers (hockey, which I can no longer bring myself to watch) and the Sixers (basketball, likewise) is objectively a bad decision. But hey, the Phillies are starting off the season with a win streak! The half–hope, half–jokes write themselves. Perhaps they will simply go undefeated right into the playoffs, the year I have started to watch baseball. Perhaps they will actually be good.
This is where the dramatic irony kicks in, for you and me.
Baseball is a sport of non–happening, which is both its highest–paid critique and compliment.
Put less kindly: baseball’s boring. But as the season drags on, I start to get it. I mean, really get it. One day I don’t understand force outs, and the next I can say that Baseball Savant marks Andrew Heaney’s xBA on home runs slightly lower than it probably should because it counts the three homers he gave up at the Field of Dreams game (where Statcast was not available) as having an xBA of .000. I know this because I like Lucas Giolito and Shohei Ohtani. Creepy? Sure.
Beyond the numbers, though, I get the non–happening. Feel it. The steady drone of failure. If you’re good at hitting the baseball, you’ll succeed maybe a third of the time, and even that’s a stretch. Ruts build easily, the Phillies lose. Some days are just bad days, with no canned–and–ready–to–crack–open explanation or solution.
But man, when there’s happening in baseball, it’s special. Some people can force the odds their way and make a third of the time feel like a hundred percent of the time, like they can warp non–existence into a vivid impossibility, burning static into a spark, a maybe.
Hey, did you know that in 2021, Shohei Ohtani batted and pitched at an elite level, an overall performance unmatched by even Babe Ruth? Well, now you do.
I am in Baltimore because, as previously mentioned, I am not okay, and my mother is worried, and we all agree that while I could use a change of scenery, I shouldn’t be alone. My older sister, also busy with college, offers two weeks, her particular infinite kindness, Baltimore, and, incidentally, baseball.
My days mostly play out the same, just in Baltimore with baseball. Except on one very windy day, we celebrate my sister’s roommate’s birthday, and on the bus back from the picnic, the man sitting in front of us is wearing an Orioles mask. A bizarre empathy strikes, and I inexplicably want him to understand that I watch baseball too. But what can I even say—‘I’m sorry that your team sucks so bad’? or ‘Guess we’re both kinda miserable, huh’?
When we step off the bus, the wind whips my hair across my field of vision before snatching my hat from my head (backwards snapback, Flyers) and flinging it toward the newly–leaved trees across the road. My sister and I share a brief, ludicrous stare, and then I’m sprinting carelessly across the bus and incoming traffic and the man with an Orioles mask, still mostly unable to see, to reduce the damage from a tragedy to an almost–loss, snagging the hat and reeling it back in. It is absurd; I am laughing.
After the two weeks end, my sister admits that she was worried Baltimore would make me worse, more stressed, and I tactfully do not admit that the first night I arrived, I cried in the shower, thinking that I wouldn’t make it because the water pressure was poor and it doesn’t take very much to set me off, those days. But I did it, didn’t I? Made it those two weeks? Spent an afternoon giddy, half–blind, chasing after a hat my sister gave me, laughing, laughing, laughing?
A baseball game is being played. A baseball game is always being played, somewhere.
Hear that? I am laughing. In Anaheim, Shohei Ohtani is bringing about a revelation.
As tidy as it would be for baseball to play Mr. Fix–it perfectly, it doesn’t. Baseball makes me happy. Baseball breaks my heart. Spring ends. I feel better and worse and worse and better and worse. Shohei Ohtani wins MVP. The Phillies do not make the playoffs. MLB locks the players out.
But the baseball stays. And some things stay until you begin to notice them everywhere.
Your brain can take something that is not yours and turn it into something that is. It doesn’t take very much. For example, I see ice skates and think of my little sister’s stories that loop in on themselves a hundred times. I come across Baltimore, and I think of my older sister’s infinite kindness.
I see a Phillies cap and suddenly I am thinking of the joy eked out from a catalog of numbers, the elastic–band snap of misery, a generous answer to a stranger’s strange question, a one–sided kinship and ‘I hope the Orioles will finally get better,’ static set aflame, the trajectory of a struck baseball that cannot possibly stretch any further but somehow does as if there are pockets of existence where miracles are possible, I think of all of it. Every single ounce of it. All of it.