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Reaching Across the Aisle

Posted By Emma Span On October 31, 2008 @ 2:19 pm In Baseball,Emma Span | Comments Disabled

Aside from the fact that most of the Series wasn’t particularly competitive, and that it involved teams I can muster only very tepid enthusiasm for or against, I had a problem getting into the Fall Classic this year simply because I’m deeply distracted – not just with work, or personal stuff, but with the *#&@ing election, with which I’ve been unhealthily obsessed for well over a year now.

Don’t get me wrong: if the Yankees or Mets had been in the Series, I would absolutely not have been so focused on silly stuff like a global economic crisis, and I would most likely have been checking baseball sites eight times a day instead of FiveThirtyEight.com [1] (Baseball Prospectus [2] writers: is there anything they can’t do?). As it is, it seems my baseball obsession has finally, temporarily, met its match.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to talk politics here; it seems no comment section is safe these days, and I myself completely lost my sense of humor on this topic weeks ago. But that’s why baseball’s more important to my mental health than ever. At a time when it sometimes seems like an innocuous remark about the weather can provoke partisan shrieking, it feels like one of the last safe havens.

In the office where I’m currently working, there’s an older man, who I’ll call Pete, a very friendly and affable guy, with whom I happen to disagree on virtually every conceivable political point. It was clear from my first day on the job a couple months back that, issues-wise, we were each more or less the other’s worst nightmare. There was, however, exactly one thing we had in common … campaign-finance reform! No, I’m kidding, you were right the first time: baseball.

Most baseball fans are familiar with Walt Whitman’s famous (and it turns out, after some very cursory research, possibly mis-attributed) quote about the game, from Bull Durham if from nowhere else: “I see great things in baseball. It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism, tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set, repair those losses and be a blessing to us.”

I’m not sure I’d go quite that far, personally – anyone who thinks baseball relieves nerves and dyspepsia has never watched their team play a close Game 7, and it’s going to take more than Rays vs Phillies to repair our losses. I’m wary of the kind of sentimentalizing that would have us believe that all we need to overcome our pesky differences is a good ball game. Still, I think it’s safe to say it can sometimes, in a small-scale way, be a start.

Pete, my colleague, is a die-hard Yankees fan. He comes over to the area by my cubicle at least once a day, usually, ostensibly to water the half-dead plants there, but really to talk about baseball. And so instead of arguing about the political news every morning, the kind of conversations which start out lighthearted but can eventually get a little heated despite our best intentions, we could talk about the team, or about the playoffs, and instead of arguing about Sarah Palin we can debate whether K-Rod or Papelbon is the bigger douchebag. Now Pete is, as I said, a very nice guy, and I’m sure we’d manage to get along all right without the Yankees, if we had to. But I’m glad we don’t have to.

This phenomenon is, putting aside the games themselves, one of my favorite things about being a baseball fan (or a sports fan more generally). The first thing I do in any strange party, new job, airplane row or other potentially awkward social situation is: find the baseball fans. Even if you don’t have a single other thing in common, that by itself can be enough for hours and hours; I’ve very rarely met a serious baseball fan I couldn’t have a decent conversation with. Not long ago, I had a pretty good talk about the Yankees’ bullpen with a crazy homeless guy on the subway at one in the morning. Granted, it later degenerated into a monologue about how the voices on the radio had stolen his ideas and he was going to make them pay, but from about 59th st. to Atlantic Ave., we were doing pretty well.

The bottom line is, no matter what you believe and no matter who you’re voting for next week, surely we can all take a moment to agree, in the spirit of bipartisanship, that Mariano Rivera is awesome.

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URLs in this post:

[1] FiveThirtyEight.com: http://fivethirtyeight.com

[2] Baseball Prospectus: http://www.baseballprospectus.com

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