To forget about life for a while

Local journalist Liz Fedor wrote a story for my former employer, MinnPost, earlier this week entitled Baseball acts as a balm for a summer of contention. It’s the usual story, one we have read several times before in various forms. Sport as collective healing, and personal healing. When a baseball team wins with a walk off home run, no one is thinking about politics or work or their leaky roof. It’s almost Zen in how we handle the moment in our minds. And that moment binds us together with our neighbors, no matter their political bent that might make them abhorrent to us.

The elusive sense of community that so many people are hungering for is present at baseball games, where people from all walks of life congregate, local citizens throw out first pitches and fans cheer for their community’s team.

That’s about right.

She also talks about how baseball is one of those rare public moments where no one is on their phone. They are talking to their friends and family. About the game. About their lives. About the sacrifice bunt and the phantom tag at second. Mays or Mantle. The ’27 Yankees or the ’98 Yankees or the ’33 Yankees. Who wants a beer, I’m heading up. How’s the wife? The kids? The job? All under the bright lights and the dark sky of an American ballpark in a middle American city. Save your divisive politics for another day, let’s talk about baseball and watch the young kid from Panama stretch a double into a triple and score on a wild pitch. America is splitting apart at the seams. But at the baseball diamond all is okay, and is a reminder that all will be okay again, someday. If baseball can survive, then we can too.

Despite all of their differences, cricket and baseball are very much the same. Bats, balls, runs. And a quiet place where you can talk to your neighbor, no matter their politics, and watch the game play out. There’s a rhythm to it. A cadence. That lulls one not to sleep but to paying attention. Other sports are chaos, cricket is harmony, order. There are no clocks, so it exists outside the prison of time, unlike the rest of our days.

England is, of course, cracking apart at the seams right now. Maybe even more so than America. I had my opinions on Brexit, of course, like most do. But then I sat next to a man at a Haley Bonar concert in Hackney the fall after the vote. He had voted to leave. And his reasons were coherent and made sense. But his family had voted to stay. And one of his sons didn’t talk to him anymore. Politics are splitting not just countries apart, but families.

And so when I watched the World Cup final in July, and saw the sea of people rise as one when Buttler knocked the bails off, I was reminded that sport’s power is nearly transcendent in its ability to bring us together, despite all of our divisions. Half of the crowd that day at Lord’s had voted to leave, the other half had voted to stay, but that afternoon in London none of that mattered. All that mattered was Ben Stokes. When I watched the last Test at Headingley, I thought of the same thing. England is being sliced open, but the cricket team is winning, and making people forget, maybe just for a little bit, forget about Tories and Labour and just letting the sun drift on their face and watch Jofra Archer take six wickets like he was king of the whole damn world.

Balms for all that ails. Politically, personally. This has been the worst year of my life. I am sad all the time. Every day is a struggle. But when Stokes hit that one six — you know the one — none of that mattered. I was okay. It’s dumb. But I will take any okay I can get these days. There’s a famous Roger Angell essay about game six of the ’76 World Series, where he talks about how sports is important because it involves caring. Really caring. Something that seems to have disappeared from the world. I feel whitewashed by depression and the drugs I take to get rid of that depression, but at the bar for World Cup final the fog lifted, and I cared, and everything was okay. I was out of my seat. I was excited. Smiling. For the first time in a very long time, I was happy.

There’s a second Roger Angell quote that fits here: “Whatever the pace of the particular baseball game we are watching, whatever its outcome, it holds us in its own continuum and mercifully releases us from our own.”

I will do just about anything these days to be mercifully released from my continuum. I don’t remember what it’s like to not feel this way. But cricket gives me glimpses, and it’s a gift I don’t reject. The game is a joy, and it gives it willingly and generously, to all who wish to drink from its cup.

Rise as one. Imagine.

 

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