It’s that time again.
Ball caps and sunscreen. Lazy afternoons and nights under the lights. Box scores discreetly checked in the midst of daytime responsibilities. Bleacher seats and hot dogs. Hopes that hinge on the swing of a bat.
For all the spreadsheets I could stare at and graphs I could interpret, sometimes I would rather wax poetic.
When I was younger, you were on the peripheral of my life, a passing glimpse on Sunday afternoons with the family. “Pu-jols,” I would chant before some frivolous delight stole me away. If only I knew then what I know now.
You came crashing into my life years later. I suppose it was home team loyalty that beckoned me to watch the 2011 World Series, and I am forever grateful for the magic you brought to my life that October. The historic swing of David Freese’s bat on that cold St. Louis night had me hooked on you. You never forget your first love, they always say. And after Pujols, perhaps Freese was my first real hero.
The bond was unbreakable from that moment forward. I had found something to tether myself to, something that was as stable and comforting as it was unpredictable and chaotic. Like clockwork, you would return to me each spring. A love renewed. You were there when I was stuck in my house all summer. You were there when I graduated high school, dedicating my speech to you. I remember that the Cardinals lost that night against the Phillies, and someone went streaking across the field.
When I went to college and my voice echoed off my clinical dorm room walls, you filled the silence. You were my home away from home, my friend when the prospect of speaking to new people seemed impossible. Ironically, you also helped me make friends. Baseball can bring all sorts of people together.
It wasn’t always good though. Sometimes I lost you, similar to the way those frivolous delights would steal my attention when I was younger. The real world had other plans every now and then. I missed games. Sometimes the players on the field seemed more like strangers. I feared that maybe the magic had worn off somewhere in the hum-drum of marathon seasons and failure. But I came back. I couldn’t quit you, especially when coming back to you felt like coming home.
You gave me a family too. For all the places where I lingered on the fringes, you brought me in. It didn’t matter where I came from, where I started out, or who I cheered for. My patience was enough. My joy and heartbreak, whether from a win in April or a loss in October, were enough. You brought people into my life who understood that better than anyone else. Some of my closest friends and the most influential people in my life were the ones who found me through you, even if our allegiances didn’t quite align. No matter how much trash we talked about each other’s teams, we knew there was something greater bringing us together. And when I experienced spring training in Arizona for the first time, I saw kindred spirits everywhere. That was the closest I got to a spiritual experience since I scrapped orthodox religion. The Church of Baseball, as Annie Savoy would preach.
This season, I look forward to all the countless little moments you’ll give me. Beyond the pitchers’ duels and walk-offs, there will be magic in doubles down the line, stolen bases, perfect changeups. I’m ready for the hot afternoons and long nights. I’m ready to continue this eternal affair.
Thank you for everything, baseball. It’s good to have you back.