An Escape From All Of This

I realize that my content of late has fallen somewhere between “a bit of a downer” and “soul-crushingly depressing.” Back in early March, I wrote about the surreality of watching leagues close one after the other, like elements of a sadistic Rube Goldberg machine. Two weeks ago I detailed the challenges facing Major League Baseball as they try to adjust to the new realities of running a sports league during these unprecedented times. Earlier this week I published an article on INTERZINE (which, shameless plug, you can read here) comparing the current pandemic to the 1918 influenza crisis, in which I noted that our leaders are making many of the same mistakes that hamstrung efforts to slow the spread of influenza in 1918. These are important topics, to be sure — but a smile and a laugh can be just as important.

In a world engulfed by a global pandemic and teetering on the brink of economic collapse, it can be hard to find the positives. The coronavirus has made cynics of us all as we enter the second month of quarantine. We’ve finished all the good shows on Netflix. We’ve run out of ingredients to use for recipe concoctions. We’re painfully close to sending the shameful “you up” text to our exes, if only to give us something more mundane to worry about.

Which is why, for a few hours a week, going to the local baseball field has been a welcome oasis in this desert of despair.

I currently live in Glendale, California with my former college roommate Brendan Walsh and his twin brother, Robert. They’re both big baseball fans, with Brendan supporting his hometown Dodgers and Robert (for reasons still inexplicable to me) cheering for the Chicago White Sox. They both, like so many of us, grew up playing baseball. Brendan and Robert–as they’re fond of reminding me–were talented young baseball prodigies. We would drive around town — before the quarantine, that is — and pass baseball fields where Brendan and Robert would quiz each other on how many home runs they hit at that field.

An afternoon of baseball followed by an evening of wine tasting; photo courtesy Joe Walsh.

Sadly, they would not become the eleventh set of twins to play in Major League Baseball; a falling-out with a martinet Little League coach led them to pursue other sports and other opportunities. But they still have their gloves, and their bat, and let me be the first to tell you — both of them can still play. Robert is equally adept at throwing with both left and right arms, and he’s got a good infielder’s glove to boot. Brendan has a strong swing at the plate with easy power to both fields.

Me? Well, I have a glove. And some freshly purchased baseballs. I’m basically the equipment manager who has to suit up and play left field in an emergency.

But when we play, it’s not about talent — though I’m sure the twins would appreciate it if I didn’t make them run quite so far to field my errant pop-ups. It’s about getting out and doing something normal. It’s about enjoying the sunshine, getting some fresh air and some exercise, and finding something fun to do amidst all this chaos. For a few hours, the rest of the world is out of sight, out of mind. What matters are the things right in front of us, like the bad hop on the infield or the bright sun and gusting winds interfering with the fly ball.

There’s very little that feels normal in the world right now. Bars and restaurants are closed. We have to wear masks whenever we go to the grocery store. Many of us are working from home; some of us aren’t working at all. Maybe that’s why, for a few hours a day, shagging fly balls and fielder grounders feels so serene: it feels normal.

Normal. That word has been a source of contention lately. Progressives don’t want a “return to normalcy,” arguing (rightly) that to do so would mark a return to all the problems we faced in our pre-coronavirus world. Others have fearfully posited that there cannot be a “return to normalcy” while the risk of coronavirus infections persists. But normal doesn’t have to be a holistic term encompassing everything from our politics to our socioeconomic situations. It can be as simple as wishing for a time when we all aren’t so painfully aware of the problems in the world around us.

Is that wishful thinking, asking for ignorance? Perhaps. But we aren’t Atlas, the Greek titan tasked with holding the world upon his shoulders. We’re allowed to clock out and find things that make living in this world more like a gift and less like a punishment. We’re allowed to put the world down for a few minutes to catch our breath.

Of late, I’ve been doing that at Glorietta Park, in the form of baseball in the warm sun with two good friends. Things are far from perfect, but for a few hours, they feel normal. And right now, that’s as fine a thing to wish for as any.

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