Photo Credit: Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports
For a moment, let’s forget the painful, jealous feelings induced by watching the Boston Red Sox win the AL East last night. Let’s forget that the division really should have been ours, if not for an inexplicable early September implosion we’re still not over. In fact, let’s just go ahead and forget about wildcard races, and clinches, and those pesky magic numbers altogether. Let’s put all the basebrawls, and injuries, and bullpen doubts right out of our minds. Let’s ignore the crushing fears, and anxieties, and aspirations that have consumed our lives over the last month or so.
And though it’s seemingly impossible, let’s temporarily disregard the promise and potential of another October.
Today, my friends, is the very last regular season home game for your Toronto Blue Jays this year. It’s a game that usually requires a sweater and a package of Kleenex—the sunny, bare-shouldered, open-domed days at the ballpark now a distant summer memory, with the cold, miserable chill of a baseball-less winter waving a grim hello in the distance. I make sure I go to this particular game every year, one I designate to pay homage to my team and all they have given me, regardless of where they sit in that great, exuberant race to the World Series.
When the season is young and full of possibilities, this day always seems so very far off on the calendar, yet we know it’s the only guaranteed moment for a proper goodbye. I book my tickets pretty far in advance, making sure I’m there, in person, just in case it does indeed happen to be the last time my boys in blue will take to their field. For so many losing years it certainly was, but it was important to me because it represented a final chance to say a thorough farewell to my chosen summer family before that terrible darkness of (oh dear god) “no baseball” commenced.
By nature, I’m not a person who pays a great deal of attention to holidays, or even tradition in general. I don’t get particularly gleeful about Christmas, or Thanksgiving, or New Year’s and the like, and I don’t participate in a lot shared rituals beyond the ballpark. (The Seventh Inning Stretch is just about as religious as it gets for me, to be honest.) But for whatever reason this day, every year, is one that holds a great deal of meaning. It offers a chance for reflection, and for gratitude, and for all those warm fuzzy feelings that people usually profess when gathered for an annual event with their family, their friends, and their community.
As much as outsiders may scoff at the idea, and as much as the trolls in your Twitter feed may want you to think otherwise, baseball really is a community worthy of celebration. For six or more wonderful months of the year, we bond tightly with strangers, in person and online, over the victories and struggles of “our guys.” Those strangers become friends, and we share with them all the many theories and erratic emotions baseball brings, finding continual solace in each other’s fandom. Yes, sometimes that means griping, whining and venting disappointment, but on better days, our voluntary gathering around the diamond has so much more to do with hope, devotion, and human connection than anything else. There’s a shared acknowledgment that we are leaving the bad parts of our lives (and even ourselves) on the shelf for a time, relishing in the enjoyment of a communal culture and experience that is lacking elsewhere. And in a world that can be incredibly painful, lonely and isolating, the ballpark is a rare place to find your people, all of them gathered and cheering for the same thing in one beautiful spot.
There is no place in the world I would rather be than in a ballpark. I’m one of those weirdos who is simply happy to be there, donning a cap and clutching a tall can of crappy beer, blissful regardless of whether or not my team is winning. In fact, in the midst of a demoralizing blow out, its not uncommon to see me insufferably smiling and laughing in the stands, giving a shrug of “oh well” to anyone who may be lamenting the humiliation. I actually don’t think I’m alone in that weirdness, and while the general tenor of our conversations right now is bona fide playoff terror (rightfully so,) I think the real deep down dread most of us have is that baseball will be gone in just a handful of short weeks. We know we’ll miss all those signature sights and smells, the subpar food and overpriced drinks, the luxury of loathing the wave, and the elation of getting on your feet for your guy’s winning hit.
I hate that it often takes a terrible, tragic event for us to gain necessary perspective. I hate that we had to lose the passionate, joyful gift that was pitcher José Fernández to be reminded that so much of what we worry about in a baseball season is entirely irrelevant in the grander scheme—a truth I think we always know deep down anyway. When I watched the Marlins gather around the mound post game, arms slung around each other’s shoulders before they stepped in and placed their caps down in reverence, I realized that there would be no single game more important than that one all season long. (There will also be no home run as important as Dee Gordon’s.) As the Miami crowd chanted José’s name, and his teammates kneeled and wept in the red infield dirt, I knew exactly why and how this game is so very important to so many.
Baseball deals a lot in what is “meaningful” and what is not, and that meaning always seems to be attributed to whether there’s some great Gatorade-showered glory at stake. We say that some games matter and others don’t, and our blood pressure levels are dictated accordingly. But the truth is, come winter, I know that I would do anything for just one more so-called meaningless game, because it would, as always, help me through so very much. Every single damn game all season long matters so much, because baseball consistently gives us not only a place to escape from all the hardships in our lives, but the very tools we need to heal from them.
And so, on the last regular season home game of the year, I will always feel an impulse to go to the ballpark—to honour all that baseball gives us, and how much closer it brings us together.