Leaving The Ballpark

There are many great things to find in a life spent writing and obsessing about baseball. But it's not everything.
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It recently dawned on me that I’ve been writing about baseball on the internet for four years. This may not seem like a long time, but it is to me. A lot has changed in four years. A lot hasn’t. When I started a baseball blog, Pitchers & Poets, I was 22 years old, unemployed, living in a giant city that was not home; I knew I wanted to be a writer, but I did not know how. Now I’m 26, under-employed, living in a different giant city that is also not home. I still want to be a writer, I still don’t know what I’m doing.

The city that I live in now is Mexico City. I’ve been here since October. I’m still figuring things out. One thing I’ve figured out is that Mexico City is so big and so unwieldy that sometimes, you just need to retreat inward. For me that means watching Law & Order reruns, or going to the movies, or eating dinner at P.F. Chang’s. Sometimes it means staying in the apartment with Janelle and pretending the outside world doesn’t exist. When you live somewhere else, the stupidest-seeming comforts from home begin to take on symbolic importance. An obvious place to retreat would be Major League Baseball: watching it, talking about it, writing about it.

But you shouldn’t always retreat. When you move as a gringo to a place like Mexico City, you have to embrace the mad scale of everything that surrounds you, the persistent volume of the streets, the inevitable stomach problems, the language. Otherwise you feel like you are wasting time, wasting away. For me, that means letting go of baseball this year, ever so gently. It means quitting my keeper league, and opting out of MLB.TV’s automatic renewal program. There was a time when I felt compelled to keep the pulse of baseball, duty-bound to know everything that was happening. That time is gone, but I still feel traces of the instinct, like lingering muscle memory.

I also quit Twitter, which has less to do with baseball and more to do with my own inability to manage time and direct whatever creative energy I have toward productive things. Still, it has had a liberating effect on my baseball fandom. Without an immediate outlet for my frustration about, say Matt Guerrier blowing lead after lead in the Dodger bullpen, I am learning to simply get less frustrated; to direct my energy elsewhere. Twitter is like an IV drip of informational opium—on one hand filling you up with the pleasant buzz of knowledge, and on the other hand sucking away at your energy and clarity of mind. It’s hard to pull the needle out of your arm, but after awhile you start to see things in color again.

In some ways, I picked a stupid time to make this decision. I’m devoting more time of my life than ever before to “being a writer.” The cost of living in Mexico City is low enough that I can actually make writerly earnings a foundational part of my total income.The smart business move would be to bear down, watch a lot of baseball, write a lot about it, and see where my career is in October. But you to spend time in one world at the expense of another. I’m finding it harder and harder to find things to say about Major League Baseball, and finding myself less and less comfortable with the notion that I have to say anything at all.

Plus, there is a baseball here too. I hope that by watching it I can rediscover some of the spirit that made me want to write about baseball in the first place. After all, learning is what the best writing is all about. There is much to discover in Mexico. I can approach a fully formed baseball universe without predisposition; learn its culture from scratch, unburdened by knowledge. I can separate the game itself from the baggage of American baseball history as I know it, appreciate the beauty of a single swing or catch without prejudice.

Twenty years ago, the novelist Richard Ford wrote an essay in the New York Times called “Stop Blaming Baseball,” making the long, nostalgic argument that baseball was changing for the worst (“many teams no longer play on actual grass”), then deciding that baseball was not actually worth being so upset over (“It may have broken Bart Giamatti's sentimental heart, but it will never break mine”). The whole thing reads like the work of somebody who has just thought about baseball for the first time, but thinks he has discovered the next theory of relativity. Of course baseball is simultaneously large and small, significant and trivial. That’s the whole point: It’s only a game, but it offers depth as such, and gateways into other less minor subjects.

One of the problems with Ford’s essay is that he sees Bud Selig’s contemporary MLB as the only form of baseball on the planet. He can’t separate the sport—with all its rich layers and history—from the spectacle that surrounds it, or else he sees the spectacle corrupting the sport, which in turn requires viewing baseball as this high, pure institution, which, come on. Ford talks a big game about baseball’s meaninglessness, but he himself is caught up in the search for something bigger. By backing away from American baseball, I’m not trying to make some kind of grand statement like Ford’s “But finally it's not even that important to me.” It’s still important to me. It’s just that other things are too.

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