Thanksgiving was always the gateway to the holidays; a family gathering that offered a sneak preview of the weeks to come, when the house would be strangled with strings of light bulbs and decorated with cinnamon-scented family heirlooms. A gaggle of hideous elf figurines was a particular point of contention between my parents, but so consumed by wintry spirit was my mother that she allowed dad to place them on a window sill for the season, from which they eyeballed us like tiny mutants from the past.
When Christmas came, among the mountains of gifts were always some to remind me that baseball, while buried under several feet of snow, would be there again come spring: a new hat, a new jersey, a few industrial-sized packs of cards, a bat that I could use to swing at the air around a pitch. While baseball has become slightly less magical to me, given its entrance into my career in a more professional capacity and the onset of natural adult cynicism, its return each year has been welcomed by me with a quickly-beating pulse, no matter how cool I pretend to be.*
And so, with all of that cynicism and professionalism and coolness rolling around in my head, and with how much 2016 has taken from us already, it would be unsurprising if the sun rose on spring this year and baseball just wasn’t there.
Baseball's labor peace in jeopardy; lockout possible.... https://t.co/gjzZ5V3iEX— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) November 22, 2016
It would make so much sense for this wretched year to take baseball from us. Maybe some sort of giga-roid will bring us back this time, allowing players to muscle baseballs new distances yet to be registered by science, and we can all turn a blind eye for a few years while the game’s prolific sluggers grow an extra arm out of their foreheads.
The vilification of steroid users was probably the first time I realized baseball could have issues beyond “dang it, we lost.” Years later, we’re talking about the Phillies’ lazy social media practices and how the team hates/is terrified by us. Talented writers are getting laid off by the dozens, a lockout appears to be looming, and this January, a Twitter troll will put his hand in the air and accept his designation to the most powerful office on the planet.
For many holidays outside of my adolescence, I attempted to reach back and drag the nostalgia of the past into the present. There’s simply no equivalent to tearing open a big, plastic toy that you get to break in over two weeks off from school. But the kind of Thanksgivings and Christmases I was trying to have as an adult were the kinds of Thanksgivings and Christmases of which only a child is capable of experiencing through a pair of twinkling, ignorant eyes. Now all I want is to put on a crackling Nat King Cole record, tear apart a turkey with my bare hands in the dark, and spend some time with the family who is somehow not too ashamed of me to look me in the eye after the unwatchable process has concluded.
It’s been a rough year. And I don’t just mean because the Phillies finished in fourth place and their pompous PR department despises us.
So rough, in fact, that the holidays, for the first time ever, snuck up on me. Each season the anticipation of family and friends is part of the celebration, but in 2016, suddenly, Thanksgiving was tomorrow. I know more people this year that have taken it on the chin in more ways than just the ones talked about on Twitter. For whatever reason, it’s hell out there, and there’s no guarantee that the turning of the calendar is going to change our fortunes.
The Phillies have proven to us that even something as innocuous as rooting for a particular sports team can become needlessly conflicted (why support an organization that stubbornly rebuffs us, a group of its most passionate fans?), or even impossible. So when Uncle Chet’s new girlfriend delays the gorging to find out what each person around the table is thankful for this year, it could be tough for some of us to generate an answer.
“Maybe you don’t understand, Brichelle,” you catch yourself sneering, “but Jeremy Hellickson accepted the qualifying offer. The Phillies have money to burn, I suppose, but [dismissive wave].”
I’ve told people before that my year is separated into two sections: holiday season and baseball season. There’s a bizarre, deep winter wasteland in between them in which my hair and toe nails and grow out and I begin scrawling some incomprehensible gibberish I keep referring to as my “great American opus.” But the distinction is an accurate one as far as the focus of my year. The holidays have had their joy and charm dulled down by adulthood and the knowledge that if I want Santa to be real, I’m going to have to become him; and baseball, too, occasionally reminds us that it isn’t the summer frivolity it’s supposed to be, either, as players start jerking each other off as a form of hazing.
But despite my dismissal of dwelling in adolescence, I must take this moment to do some childlike whining: [stomping feet] I don’t want there to be another lockout.
There might be one, though. There might be no baseball, and there might be fewer presents, and there might be less people around the Thanksgiving table this year, and there might be a tough job market and a lengthening unemployment line full of writers and there might be decrepit elves from the window sill showing up in your nightmares to ask why your novel isn’t finished.
I don’t have a very informed take on this**; I’m just a burned out thirty-year-old with a leaking stress valve. It’s obnoxious and unproductive to sit around, aching for our childhoods. Instead of trying to drag the past along with us, we could try use the strengths born from it to make something of the future. I don’t know exactly how yet. Maybe take kids to games and try to leech off their sense of wonder. Don’t let your people who are still around fade into the background. Try not to let a big, backwards organization bum you out too much. Smell whatever bird you’re cooking, take a deep breath, and tell Brichelle, “I’m thankful we all made it to this table, because as I wrote on my internet baseball column, ‘it’s hell out there.’”
“Oh, here he goes with the internet again,” mutter some of the relatives, but Brichelle is satisfied, and the meal can begin.
Life is long and full of changes; we burrow into traditions like holidays and baseball to soothe the blows. We don’t get to be kids again. But we get to be fans.
So, let us.
*EDITOR’S NOTE: Not very cool.
**EDITOR’S NOTE: Who has time to research “information” when you’re so busy being cool?