Watching today’s wild, victorious season opener was a different baseball experience for me, or more accurately the return of an old baseball experience. Driving home from teaching, I caught the first few innings on the radio. Even when J-Roll launched his grand slam, I didn’t feel dangerously distracted from the road. When I came home to an empty house (my wife was out with the boys) and turned on the TV, I watched as I chopped vegetables for dinner. Not even when Cliff gave up the 6-run lead did I ever fear of chopping off a fingertip instead. What’s happened to me?
It struck me that this season’s lowered expectations can bring a totally different viewing experience. For the past 7 seasons or so, I (and I guess many others) have been watching Phillies baseball with a football kind of intensity, hanging on every pitch and giving inordinate weight to every single game out of the 162. Every game, every inning felt like the playoffs. And the playoffs felt like life and death itself.
But here I was watching the game and not stressing out with every lead change, bad at bat, or runner left on base. It reminded me of the worn out saying, "Letting the game come to you." I was letting the game come to me, again, the way it did when I was a little kid and the Phillies truly and deeply sucked. Or when I was in college and they defined ineptitude on a Jeltzian scale. Or when I met my wife and Lieberesque losing was in fashion. I’m not saying that I accepted or enjoyed losing. I’m saying that instead of concentrating on winning, I concentrated on the game itself—the vast amount of losing and failure you have to come to peace with to hang around long enough to enjoy the smaller victories. In other words, for every Utley, we must endure more than a fair share of Mayberrys.
It reminded me of my Dad reminiscing with a smile about the days when Philadelphia had the worst team in the National AND the American League. He grew up within walking distance of Shibe Park and loved both teams in his (now clear to my adult eyes) Zen-like way. He could admire a Bobby Shantz, a Ferris Fain, a Willie Jones, or a Robin Roberts even in the bleakest of seasons. He taught me that even bad baseball was still baseball, and that was always good.Let me be clear, I’m not advocating losing. I want to see my guys win. That’s always fun. (My Dad doubted he’d live to see a Phillies World Championship, but now he’s seen two.) But I also need to enjoy baseball even when winning’s not in the cards. It’s also something that I need to teach to my sons, who’ve only known this golden age of Phillies history and think that this is the norm rather than the exception for the franchise (or any franchise, for that matter). Baseball teaches us that the victories are sweeter because of all the disappointments along the way. I want them to let the game come to them in that sense, because that’s the real life lesson of sports. I want them to learn to love baseball for all its frustrations rather than in spite of them, because that’s why baseball endures and people like us all watch and cheer and believe, even when that belief seems unrewarded. Today was a win. Who knows how many more we’ll have this year. But it reminded me of why I really love baseball and why I want my kids to love it, too.