Losing sleep over balls and strikes

April 20, 2011

It’s well past 11 p.m. on a Friday night, and I’m pacing the room, throwing nervous glances at the TV screen.

I’d tried to walk away earlier, pretending to do the dishes, but I could still hear it. The howl of 37,000 people screaming bloody murder over the questionable eyesight of a man in a navy blue suit.

Then I’m back on the couch, staring again, tapping my foot nervously.

“Throw a strike, dammit!”

I have problem. It’s an obsession, really. It’s called baseball.

I’ve often wondered how nine men I’ve never met playing on a field somewhere far from here can affect my emotions so much. When my team wins, I’m on top of the world. When we lose, I’m a sullen mess.

For some, spring is buds spreading and jacket unbuttoning, little birds chirping and ground thawing. But it’s always meant baseball to me. It’s throwing the ball for the first time in months, checking game schedules, and counting down the hours to Opening Day.

The strangest thing happens when a baseball game is on the room. Everyone else turns into an adult from the Charlie Brown cartoons – they’re talking, but I can’t hear them.

When others are watching late-season hockey games and hoping against hope the Leafs just may make the playoffs this year, I’m listening to static-filled AM radio broadcasts of meaningless spring training games down in Florida. How unCanadian.

My fiancée humours me, but probably worries about my connection to reality. When she imposed a limit of one televised baseball game per day, I realized I had a problem. So I did what any rational baseball fan would do. I became a fantasy baseball team manager, which is kind of like giving a junkie keys to the heroin factory.

Fantasy baseball takes a love of baseball to new, exceptionally nerdy heights. You ‘manage’ a team of real players, juggling lineups to win in a competition of statistics like wins, strikeouts, batting average and home runs. You trash talk other ‘managers,’ taking credit for the work of millionaire athletes who have no idea who you are.

Like quick sand, it sucks you in. Innocently enough you’re signing up for your first fantasy league, and next thing you know you’re losing sleep over the on-base percentage of a 22-year-old rookie who plays for a national league team you don’t even care about in Arizona, a state you’ve never visited.

Maybe the scouts were wrong about him! Or maybe he just needs more time? But what if he’ll never really be major league material? My God – why didn’t I bench him?

I lack the ability to put baseball in perspective. My emotions can swing wildly with the crack of a single wooden bat, or a dropped ball from a no-good bum whose mother should have disowned him.

I know that Boston is a perfectly fine town with decent, law abiding citizens. But once the baseball season starts, I develop an irrational, inexplicable hatred of its residents. They’re Red Sox fans, making them clearly degenerates of dubious upbringing.

I know that New York is great city, too. But for six months of the year, I dream about horrible natural disasters destroying their beloved ballpark in the Bronx, and of grown men in pinstripes weeping like little girls at the sight.

I know there are things out there that really matter in life – our relationships, our health, our homes, our jobs. But somehow I’m still sweating balls and strikes, outs and innings.

It’s just a game. I know that. But that doesn’t make me love it less.


Guelph Mercury, April 20, 2011

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