As I sit writing this, staring at the gloomy London skyline, worlds apart from the Newport Beach bench I was watching the world go by on last week, I am struck by the magnitude of what my Anaheim trip meant to me.
I’m sure by now, people are quite aware of the historic events I witnessed during my six-day stretch in Anaheim:
- A Reid Detmers no-hitter
- Mike Trout breaking Tim Salmon’s Angel Stadium home run record
- Shohei Ohtani’s first-ever professional grand slam
- Anthony Rendon hitting it over the fence left-handed
- Two series wins
- And just a memorable week of Angels baseball.
This was one of the most glorious weeks of baseball for the Angels since the 2002 World Series win, and it was a privilege to have been able to watch it unfold in person. For me, there is nothing quite like the authentic ballpark experience. What got me hooked on the sport as a 10-year-old keeps me coming back two decades later.
But, as incredible as it was, I want to move away from that slightly. I want to talk about the impact of baseball and sport on mental health – the ability of baseball to give back far more than just the on-field product.
To do this, I want to briefly share my situation.
I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression on and off for a number of years, panic attacks come and go, and as with so many people over the past few years, I’ve really struggled to find my place or feel my worth in the world. I know I am not alone in that battle, and I try to open up when I feel comfortable doing so, but it can be difficult, even now.
But it was something my Mum said to me that had me reflecting on where I was at that moment. I am sure she won’t mind me sharing, but I received a text out of the blue from her towards the end of my trip. It read, “it’s great to see you looking so relaxed and happy.”
I didn’t think too much of it at first, but as I began to process, you know what, she was right. I was happy, perhaps for the first time in a long time. I wasn’t thinking about life in the UK or the challenges and struggles awaiting me on return. I was just in a place where I felt comfortable, surrounded by people from all walks of life, united by that common love of our favourite baseball team. It was a community. I just felt at home.
The reaction to my visit was surreal. Positive tweets, DM’s, people wanting to write and listen to my story (including national US media), fans wanting to buy me beers and merchandise, stop me to take a photo with me, or just to chat. It was completely overwhelming.
I am just a guy like anyone else there that loves the Angels and just wanted to watch his team play in person, but I was treated so exceptionally well. Of course, this was aided by the historic stretch the team was going through on the field, but everything I am doing over here and my journey to watch the team was almost universally appreciated. I received so much support and positivity, including from the Angels themselves, whom I cannot thank enough for their hospitality and recognition. All those sleepless nights felt fully justified.
I had the opportunity to finally meet in person so many of the people I’d connected with on social media for many years. People that have allowed me to feel far closer to the team than I could ever imagine. Living and breathing each game with them as if I was at Angel Stadium every night. I was embraced as one of their own. Something I think could be unique to baseball.
I thought about the reverse situation, Americans coming over to see their favourite Premier League football team. Would they have got the same reaction? I highly doubt it. We’ve all seen the same old complaints about tourists and glory hunters. Yet I am sure at baseball stadiums around the US, global fans are welcomed with open arms, with people just so happy to see their small part of America represented overseas.
For those six days, I was doing something I loved, surrounded by people who went out of their way to help make my trip special, whether that be recommendations of things to do or eat or simply by welcoming me to the area. I love baseball for this. It’s a sport that sees generations of individual families attending games together, all knowingly or unknowingly forming a wider family and a special community. From my first trip to Angel Stadium 20 years ago to now, nothing has changed in this regard. That atmosphere still remains.
Back in the UK now, it’s tough not to have crashed back down to Earth. The feelings I had then and the moments I was experiencing were, of course, unsustainable, but it just proved to me how powerful a tool sport can be.
Following a team brings you the full range of emotions that make us human, the highs and the lows that come with your investment in their success. But beyond that, it showed how powerful baseball can be in bringing people together. That is why our movement in the UK is so important too. Through MLB UK Community, through Bat Flips and Nerds, through the fantastic team accounts, the little fan clubs that continue to grow and advocate strongly for baseball in the UK, and everyone that continues to be part of the active baseball world here, that is how we can bring a little bit of a joy to a world that quite frankly really needs it.
I have met some wonderful people on this journey so far and made some great friends – but I don’t want it to stop there. We need to continue supporting each other to allow other people to experience what we already know about this game.
It’s America’s pastime – but maybe it should be all of ours.
Nick Wright is one of the growing team of writers at Bat Flips and Nerds. Follow him on Twitter @LAAngelsUK