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.