How a burgeoning late-night love affair with baseball got me through lockdown

It’s midnight, in midsummer 2020, and the witching hour holds nothing but worry and anxiety and an insatiable urge to raid the fridge. The pandemic lockdown is in full swing in London. Scrolling Twitter aimlessly, the app being particularly fruitful at that time of night given the American focus of my ‘following’ list, I notice that BT Sport are advertising a baseball game. Thoughts of snacking abate and I lazily switch over to the appropriate channel, mildly curious.

My stateside sports fandom had always been dominated by the NFL, so what a lovely surprise to hear Joe Buck’s familiar voice on the broadcast. If Joe is still in business, maybe there’s hope for us all. Buck, in trademark, big-league tones, opined that the season had been impacted ‘gravely’ by the pandemic. I immediately and inwardly chastised him for using the term. There were people in graves, show some decorum man! But cognitive dissonance soon kicked in. I also knew that this was the kind of negative thinking pattern which characterised my depression. Buck was being earnest, and truthful. Baseball had been impacted in a big way. A shortened season, multiple cancellations, concerns over player and staff safety. And yet, in spite of all that, I began to settle in. The innings went by and I found a calmness had washed over me, almost imperceptibly. Baseball was a microcosm of what had happened across the globe, and to be able to watch it, however, impacted, felt like a privilege, especially when most other sports I enjoyed were shutdown.

I’d been to a baseball game in the US back in 2014. I rather absent-mindedly took in a Mets Phillies game after a day at the US Open tennis at Flushing. I stumbled across to Citi Field and watched about 6 innings of, well, something. Drunk and confused, I nevertheless left intrigued. Blue and orange cap in hand on the subway ride back to Manhattan, I was henceforth a Met. I kept an eye out for their scores since then (yeah, not great), never really giving the game any more than a passing thought, or occasional YouTube highlights session. My only other brush with live ball was the London Series in 2019. A fabulous occasion at a balmy, buzzed London Stadium in Stratford, filled to the rafters with Bostonians and Bronxians and all manner of British neophytes trying to make head and tail of the rules and tactics and scoreboard. Happily, with Batflips and Nerds as living proof, there were plenty of well-informed British devotees eager and willing to impart their knowledge. I will never forget the 7th inning stretch. Over the course of the two games that June, there were 10 home runs and 65 hits. Juiced balls? Unfamiliar stadium dimensions? The travelling yips? Who cares? A feast of offense and a wonderful Transatlantic melding of tradition and breaking new ground.

I love cricket, and comparisons with cricket are at once facile and understandable. They are of course very different bat and ball games, but there is a certain tempo and meter to both sports, as well as to their commentary, especially that on radio. Elongated tangents and deep statistical analyses are punctuated by brief, explosive moments of pure action and melodrama. A base hit. A diving catch. A double, or even triple play. Occasionally, such as with a full count, bases-loaded situation, there is a remarkable build-up of tension unmatched across sports. During a no-hitter, or perfect game, even more so. But there is also a joy in the more mundane, less exciting passages of play during which many a wandering thought comes and goes. During this pandemic, it has been those games, between teams who play in cities I’ve never visited, featuring players I’ve never heard of, that have provided a late-night solace, much needed as the antidote to anxiety. Brief respite, but respite nevertheless. Learning, gradually, the intricacies of the game, safe in the knowledge that my knowledge is not, indeed, anywhere near complete, has been immensely fun.

The sport is not without its problems, obviously, highlighted by the recent sticky substances debacle. Much like baseball’s steroids scandal, an unwillingness by the powers at be to compromise has led to a fractured relationship with its players and players union. My relationship with the game, though, has grown ever stronger, and has provided more than just a welcome relief from the persistence and horror of the pandemic. Slow-forward to June 2021, and it’s a full-blown love affair. Much like a real romance, where in retrospect you never quite understand how you functioned before it flourished, I’m not sure what I’d do without it now. Baseball cards, MLB.TV, Craig Calcaterra’s daily newsletter, a glove and a ball and a speculative email to my local team about joining (who knew one even existed, huh?).

On the nights where the depression and the anxiety are more visceral, watching or listening to the baseball is cathartic. I can lose myself in the moment, which I’m constantly told is important, and transport myself thousands of miles away, and away from darker thoughts. It is no coincidence that in the break between the World Series and Opening Day I struggled more with my mental health. A doctor can’t prescribe baseball, of course, and even if they did, the percentage of people who would benefit would be infinitesimal, but it’s been part of what’s worked for me. Long may it continue.

I don’t care if I never get back.

(Photo by David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Josh is a guest contributor for Bat Flips & Nerds. Follow him on Twitter @Joshwa_1990

While you’re here. It’s not too late to catch the epic Bat Flips & Nerds podcast with special guest, Lucas Giolito. Click on the photo of the White Sox ace.

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