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Extra Innings, Anxieties, and Meaningless April Baseball

It is 12:31 in Washington, and Travis Bergen just threw a first pitch called strike to Garret Hampson, who showed bunt, but pulled back. It is the top of the eighteenth inning of a meaningless April game between two teams who likely won’t have much to play for by September; both have playoff odds less that sit at less than 5% according to FanGraphs. The score is tied at two apiece. Neither team has pushed a run across since the Giants in the sixth inning, and there have only been five hits since we entered extra innings. I love baseball, but this is a boring game in all aspects: length, quality, and importance to the postseason race. I do not know who will win, but I do know it will not matter much in the scheme of this season, or at all in my life. Regardless, I am happy.

It is strange, sometimes, what happens to me at night. I know that sentence makes it seem as if I’m setting up to reveal that I am a werewolf, but I promise you I am not. I have struggled with anxiety, seriously, cripplingly struggled with it, for many years now. This doesn’t make me special, because it seems everyone my age copes with the same problems (which is another issue entirely), but I have dealt with them all the same, and at night, it gets much worse. I can not tell you the number of times that I have rolled over in bed with tears in my eyes at three in the morning, unable to sleep because the knot in my chest will not go away, and I can hardly breathe. It is scary when it happens, and in those moments, I fear that I will die. I fear that it will never end, and I will be stuck there, sweating in my sheets, closing my eyes as tight as I can, and sobbing. But I am still alive. 

It gets worse in the night, but that is nothing compared to what happens in the winter. It gets dark by four o’clock where I live, and the sun will disappear for weeks on end. I have found that, during these stretches, things that usually make me happy do not anymore. I try to write, but I spend hours staring at a blank page blinking back at me on my computer. I will strum songs on my guitar until my fingers are blistering, or go run in the freezing night air until my lungs are burning, but as soon as I stop, the feeling comes back. That pit in my stomach, that lump in my throat, they both return, and I do not know what else to do. I am moving to Arizona in August, mostly to go to school there so that I can eventually try to pursue a career as a baseball announcer, but also largely because of the weather. I fear that if I went somewhere cold, away from all my friends and family, I might not be able to do anything to stop my panic attacks. I hope the warmth will reinvigorate me. 

It it still cold in Washington, and doesn’t really feel much like Spring yet. Despite this, and despite the late hour, I am writing something, and I feel alive. I feel like myself, and that is a very rare thing, and something that seems to me like it’s worth celebrating. I have escaped my date with anxiety tonight because I am watching this dumb, meaningless, endless game between the 3-10 Colorado Rockies and the 5-9 San Francisco Giants that is now headed for the bottom of the eighteenth after Trevor Story struck out looking. These extra inning affairs, the ones that last for hours and make you question your own sanity, I live for these. I see a lot of my own struggles in them. 

As the night wears on, as the strikeouts pile up (the Giants fans ran out of “K” signs to hang up in the outfield, so now fans are contorting themselves into the letter to accommodate the growing number of strikeouts), as most fans leave and the only ones who are still there start laughing deliriously over ordinary things, it is easy to wonder why we waste our time invested in something so inconsequential. This game might never end. And so what if it didn’t? A year from now, five months from now, Hell, even a week from now, nobody would care, or remember. It’s a pointless game, after all, and the season is barely two weeks old. This game might never end, but what does it matter if it doesn’t? I think that about myself, sometimes, when I’m having those panic attacks in the middle of the night. Sure, I’m terrified it won’t end, but who would care if it didn’t? In a year’s time, I would just be some name forgotten by history floating on the breeze. 

But there is so much joy to be found in these kinds of games. Players wear bubblegum buckets as hats. Announcers leap with excitement at the slightest sign of a fly ball, even if it ends up being purely routine. Fans run amok in the three-fourths empty stands, and get to know the other strangers around them who are sharing this almost religious experience of being at a ballpark as we pass the midnight hour. Those little, silly, mundane things are awfully beautiful. That is why baseball is the one thing I can consistently turn to avoid falling into my own endless head. It is why I have countless of my favorite ever games stored on my computer that I watch in the offseason, and it is why I am watching this unimportant game now, and celebrating along with the Giants as Kevin Pillar just hit a sacrifice fly to move the winning run to third base. The end is in sight. 

Baseball provides me with most of my happiness, most of my certainty that being alive is actually meaningful and worth it, and my only real mechanism for reckoning with my anxieties. The Red Sox are off to a very bad start, and for someone like me, who has for so long lived and died with each pitch, that is usually a very bad thing. Each loss feels like I am inching closer to a disappointing end to the season, and with that comes a long, long time without baseball to occupy my thoughts. For years, the Red Sox winning hasn’t just been something fun, but something very necessary for my mental health. 

Recently, though, I think that I have grown, and it started with a game much like this Rockies-Giants one I am watching right now. I watched Game 3 of the 2018 World Series in a hotel room with my girlfriend, who fell asleep after the twelfth. I accidentally woke her up well past three in the morning; I was laughing after Max Muncy’s walk-off homer. She asked if the Red Sox had won, and through my hysterics, I managed to say, “No. But who the fuck cares?” It was the most ridiculous game I have watched in a very long time, and by the end of it, all I could think to myself was, “I would do anything to be involved in baseball for the rest of my life.” 

The Red Sox losing still disappoints me, still leaves me feeling that familiar fear that the offseason and all of its terrors might come early for me. But I get so much joy from baseball. Just having it around me. Checking scores at night before bed, and watching highlights, and coming up with ideas for things to research and write about. There is so much to love about this dumb game, and that gives me more hope than anything else. Nothing but baseball can make me feel this way. 

Game 3 of the World Series felt interminable, but it ended. The stakes of this Rockies-Giants game are much lower, but it just ended as well, on a failed force attempt at home (because baseball). The fans who stayed will file out of the stadium red-eyed but cheerful, clutching to their chests an amazing story to tell about the time they stayed at an April baseball game between bad teams for five hours and turned themselves into human “K’s” and Erik Kratz (!) got a walk-off on a ground ball to second base. Because it does matter whether or not these games end; perhaps not to the standings, but certainly to us, the people who held their breath with every pitch of a game, and will never forget this night that the Giants beat the Rockies.  

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Dakota Lovins

Dakota is a sophomore in college, and one day he wants to be a baseball announcer. He is 6'5'' with size 17 shoes, a fan of the Boston Red Sox, and he is afraid of moths. Last year he finished in 5th place out of 10 in his fantasy baseball league. Follow him on twitter @kotalov16.

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