Baseball and Life: Living Within the Clutch

When I first began this blog, its header read, “Religion, Politics, Baseball; the Important Stuff!”


I haven’t written about baseball much these past few years. My new favorite Yankee is Curtis Granderson, and I am fond of Nick Swisher, but otherwise I haven’t had much to say about the game since arguing against instant replay in baseball after the Galarraga-Joyce incident.

But my column at First Things, today, is about baseball, and how love can sometimes lead us into raving, despairing hate if we lose perspective, and it’s about living life within the clutch moments:

“For the love of God . . .” he cried, again and again, as one Bosox batter after another swung and missed, and looming before him was a ninth inning full of Mariano Rivera at his peak.

Watching at home, my son and I heard a hated rival’s naked pain, and we hooted in what might be called cruel appreciation.

Baseball fans understand each other’s afflictions. We could laugh in that moment, because our team was winning, but we recognized all too well the sound of anguish emanating from Beantown; we had felt it enough, in the Bronx. When the umpire called “strike three” at the third out, the single voice dissolved into a bellow of incoherent angst and three hundred miles away we knew the man had slumped into his chair with his head in his hand, and his heart full of hate; not for the Yankees—that was a given—but for his own team, and for the game of baseball, itself, of which the late commissioner A. Bartlett Giammati once wrote, “it breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart.”

The heartbreak is what makes it great, and the source of the heartbreak is the clutch—that period of time (and it can last for a moment or for years) when everything meaningful in your life fades into a peripheral nothingness until an outcome is known. In the clutch, love is balancing—one foot, en pointe—along a thin wire of hope, and still determining if, or when, the next foot might be safely employed.

The clutch makes us hold our breath in the name of love. It is the biopsy report we are waiting to hear about on our husband; it is what keeps us from fully sleeping until we hear our kid pull into the driveway; it is the acknowledgment that we lack control over an outcome, and the wondering that comes before the knowing. Within the clutch are contained all the possibilities of our wild imaginings, and it is in those imaginings that we find ourselves hating the object of our love, for making us care so deeply.

Only love can sink us into screaming, ruinous despair while in the depths of a clutch, and of all sports, only baseball can so routinely wear us down to that place.

You can read the rest, here. It may surprise you!

UPDATE: Over at dotcommonweal, another baseball piece — a charmer from a couple years back, by Grant Gallicho.

And then of course, there is the darker side of things. There always is.

RELATED: Longing for Baseball in the Deep Mid-Winter Hush

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Peter in Mpls.

    And then there are those years where there is no clutch at all with your team because they completely and utterly SUCK! Well at least the Yankees won’t have the Twins to kick around in the playoffs.

    [Yeah, sorry about the Twins, this year. A sad story. But at least there was a consistency to their play. They didn't simply go down in a spectacular collapse, like Boston. -admin]

  • ds

    Hate is sometimes appropriate. I hate Satan and all his works, including the Chicago Cubs.

  • Manny

    “it breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart.”

    Yeah, well being a long suffering Baltimore orioles fan – now in what I think is their 15th straight (I’ve lost count) losing season and the fifth or sixth straight in last place – damned right it breaks my heart. Actually there is something wrong with a system that has the Yankees, with their wealth, in the playoffs for what now is about 20 straight years. If you’re a Yankees fan, you don’t know what suffering is all about when it comes to baseball.

  • Manny

    I just checked, so let me be accurate. In the last 20 years, the Yankees have been in the playoffs 18 times. No surprise I no longer have the youthful wonder of the game that I once had.

  • Mary

    I am hoping that my Texas Rangers get to meet your Yankees again in this year’s playoffs. I personally prefer a seven game series.

    Last year I suffered through that first game loss and took out my frustrations mostly on you, Anchoress, and your tweets during the game. The Rangers lost that battle with the Yankees but won the war, and I hope we can do it again!

  • Peter in Mpls.

    I will admit to a grudging affection for Nick Swisher. The twinkle in his eye is hard to resist. On the other hand, Mark Tisherra (or however you spell it) can go jump in a lake. He has hit way too many homers off the Twins.

    BTW, has anyone seen “Moneyball” yet? Looks like a good one.