The Nats are losing a lot of games. Bryce Harper’s slump kept me up for several nights last week. But even bad pizza is still pizza, and even the worst One Direction song is still an absolute banger. The Nats are doing poorly and yet they still bring me joy. Watching games, listening to games, even seeing score notifications on my phone while I do homework: all of these experiences deliver small moments of simple gladness.
I was in Washington last weekend, and, since it’s the last time I’ll be home until baseball season ends, I was intent on seeing a game. I bought tickets to the Friday game against the Giants, and let myself get excited when Strasburg was announced as the starting pitcher, even though I knew it was probably ill-advised. My godfather went above and beyond the vows he made at my baptism and and snagged me the last Zimmerman bobblehead, and the happiness I felt upon unboxing the cheap toy that only barely resembles its namesake was somehow both childlike and so large it filled the room.
A recap of the game: it was a loss. More important than that, Strasburg didn’t look like himself at all for the (barely) two innings he pitched. He left the game early with an apparent injury. In my opinion, Juan Soto did everything right and even if he had messed up I would have forgiven him in a heartbeat, but my godfather thinks he looked a little slow. We were treated to a display of some truly sloppy defense. But that isn’t what matters. Scherzer came out to pinch hit, and even though he didn’t end up doing much with his at bat, the elation I felt seeing him jog out from the bullpen added at least ten months to my life. Soto redeemed himself in my godfather’s eyes by hitting a two-run homer. And Trea Turner, the little engine that could, made an impressive diving catch and tight throw to first for the out. I am so lucky to have seen him play baseball with my own two eyes.
It was a muggy evening. I sweat clean through my Harper jersey, a small redheaded boy in front of me took the big-screens prompts to “scream” a little too seriously, and a young couple behind me had an infuriatingly intricate conversation about state vs federal regulations of the health insurance market for at least four innings, and nothing that happened on the field caused them to lose their steam. When the game ended, by an incredible stroke of luck, the heavens only opened up with rain and bright lightning after we’d made it safely back to our car.
I’m trying to read lots of books about baseball this summer. So far, Fail Better by Mark Kingwell is very good. In his essay “Love”, Kingwell does a wonderful job explaining why baseball is so loveable, and why it is such a cathartic experience of relief and restoration for so many.
“Can you love a pause? Can you love a logic of pauses? Can you love a game whose essence lies in the motionlessness that opens up between motions, and gives them meaning? But explaining why is like conveying in words the exaltation–the raising high–one feels when Glenn Gould plays music by William Byrd or Orlando Gibbons. No love so intimate and personal, so wrapped in biography and mortality, is ever easily shared. They say that Lucifer, before the celebrated prideful fall, was the anointed guardian of music in heaven. Now there is an image for the poetic among us! Baseball is the heavenly, devilish music of the physical world. Our love here is a complicated, implicated property. Angels in the outfield, sure. Devils too.”
Everyone’s relationship with baseball is different. When I was so depressed I hated leaving the house, I submerged myself in the 2015-2016 NHL season. I knew about every trade and highlight reel goal. I was a veritable encyclopedia of hockey knowledge. A year later, when I was on the mend and learning to live with my anxiety and depression and beginning to chip away at my self-loathing, I would end most of my days with a Nats game. I’d listen alone in my room while I cleaned up, or folded laundry (hi, Mom! I fold my laundry!). Even though the Nats lost on Friday, I was still so grateful to see them play. I won’t get to see the Nats play again this season, unless I talk myself into a very long road trip, but I’ll try to make it to the minor league games down the road from my apartment. And when I can’t do that, I’ll just listen on the radio.