In My Ohio

​On What It Is About Baseball

Darren C. Demaree
​At the beginning of April every year, right before baseball season starts, there is a collection of my friends that start to tune me out. They are still wrapped up in the end of the NBA, in the Final Four, in the push for the Stanley Cup playoffs, they might even just be drunk at an MLS game, and the idea that I want only want to talk about baseball drives those friends nuts. There are really important, championship-determining games being played, and I won’t stop talking about the third game of a one-hundred-and-sixty-two-game season. At a certain point they just leave me to it. I have five or six friends, plus my father and father-in-law, and we know that this is our baseball family. If one of us has to talk about the Cleveland Baseball Team’s second left-handed arm in the bullpen, the other one has the thirty minutes it will take to have that discussion. The rest of the world still exists of course, but it exists at a frequency I am not quite in tune with.
There are generalized beauties to the game that seem to resonate with most people. Spring is taking hold, summer is on the horizon, the weight of a long winter seems to roll off with the first good stretch of the shoulders, and that immediately opens one up to possible joys. Sitting outside in the sun, and watching sport feels better than watching anything inside of an arena. If the breeze has enough strength to it, it can literally bring you a homerun ball to your section of the bleachers. That physiological memory starts pumping endorphins into your blood stream, your pupils shrink a bit, because there is so much light around you that they can rest easy for a while. The sounds of the game are loose, hovering, ritualistic, and they can snap with a single burst of adrenaline. You rise and fall at a baseball game more than any other sport.
There is also the lineage factor. The father or the mother and the son or the daughter; all of those hours, summers, years spent together passing on the experience. If you didn’t engage in the sport you wouldn’t have been engaging fully with that parent. The same thing happens with Ohio State or Alabama football, you are raised a fan. It becomes genetic, and when you have children they are presented with the same opportunity to fall in love with the darling sport of the generation before. There is no punishment if they don’t, but there is no reward either. The emotional ties never waver, but there can be new tethers created between the two of you.
The weather brings in the crowds, the lineage makes it generational and adds an emotional connection to the game, and then there is the personal narrative. You have a thousand stories (just like any fan of anything) that connect you to your sport/team. They become life-markers. The summer I got married my team was playing so well we set up a television at the reception. The fall my first child was born, I took the late-night shift so my wife could rest, and I could watch the game replays with my newborn. I got my third book published on the day my team played a double-header. Do you remember when five of us drove to the stadium together, and Lisa and Jerry told us they were moving to Spain for three years? The games elevate the daily; it even grants a supple black to those moments we never want to leave us.
In variation and personal-preference, those parts of the experience make the impossibly long season incredible. Even if it is just those parts of it, it becomes something that makes your life more enjoyable than it would be otherwise. Even though others can, I can’t say that about any sport in my life, and I watch them all.
For me, as someone who played baseball for so long, whose shoulders and knees are torn and weakened from the decade plus of playing so many games in the spring, summer, fall, and even indoors during the winter, there is a different quality to watching a game. That field is so large and open; it almost looks like there is still room for me out there. There isn’t, but I twitch a little bit on a really good fastball. I remember how much it hurt, tore through your skin to dive on Astroturf, what it felt like to catch two games in a day, and that doesn’t appear to be fading away with time. I’m getting older quickly, but there is still a part of me that remembers what it felt like to move gloriously, un-hindered by the past or the future. I don’t do anything like that anymore; however, on certain days, during certain games I still get a bit of the aftertaste from those experiences. That might be the part of it that I can’t quite explain to my friends when they ask me how I can disappear so easily in the sun.