Eleven years ago, I read a book I can’t remember in the bottom bunk of a bedroom I was sharing with my new boyfriend, Sean Flynn. Once the sun lit the room white, the gangle of a man I’d just begun dating sprung from the bunk above me toward the nearby desk and roused me from my book by hitting play on Steve Goodman’s infinitely optimistic tribute track to the biggest losers in all of professional sports. The Chicago Cubs were Sean and my hometown team, and they were the subject of the first conversation he and I struck up in a malty, moist subterranean bar in northwest DC only weeks earlier.
Optimism infected us, if not exactly due to the Cubs then at least because we were in our 20s and had played hooky with a gaggle of our friends, driving to Philadelphia for an opening day game. Most of all, our optimism at that age stemmed from the plum luck and improbability of our having managed to meet, to venture on a first date and a second, and, as it turned out, to really like each other.
Anything seemed possible. We hoped it was.
One marriage, two kids and three Chicago Cubs playoff runs later, it’s snowing on Cubs opening day. Sean’s shaking with nerves and excitement. A flood of optimism is trickling through this city, as the team rife with young blood, brains and muscle, tickles our hopes. Expectations rise to the surface, buoyed by last fall’s thrilling playoff run and despite the odds and dismal records of our north side club’s past hundred-some years.
As snow falls in April, and at a time in my life when believing feels more vital than ever, it again feels like anything’s possible.
I’m not old but I’m not 20 anymore. In the middle of a decade of family- and career-building, baseball seems inconsequential and also terribly important.
Divides seem to be deepening every day, splitting the world and its denizens further apart. Sea levels are rising. It won’t be long before entire cities—entire coasts—are submerged. There won’t be enough water or food. There won’t be enough habitable space. Housing bubbles will continue to build and burst. To make more money, take better vacations, buy more luxurious homes and cars, people will continue to exploit those without the power to stop them. On my more pessimistic days it feels like we’re all doomed to drift further from those we don’t understand and to continue to fortify ourselves in the safety of our intransigent realities until some illness or tragedy ejects us from them.
There is not enough real justice. (Laquan McDonald. Sandra Bland. Syrian refugees. Starving children.) There is a deficit of civil discourse. (Donald Trump, the multitudes of people rallying around him, and the failure to attempt to try to understand what is causing them to do so.) There often feels like there is no hope. The wealthier get wealthier. Sean and I, of course, don’t count ourselves among them. Probably most of the people we know and love don’t either. But we have so much, really. And the guiding principle of western civilization is to always want more, all the time. Isn’t it? We always want to win.
So we underwrite newer, bigger stadiums. We plaster them with fancier amenities and more gourmet dining options. We distract ourselves with JumboTrons, with flashing lights, fireworks and with loud, inane noise pulsing from speakers, and primarily with the small screens we clutch in our hands to distance ourselves from whatever about our present surroundings is so hard to bear. But beneath the JumboTron, below our smartphones, or via the TV or computer screen into which we peer from our couch or bed at home or desk at work, the baseball diamond still has four points, three bases and one plate. The same elements, glorious in their simplicity, comprise it: dirt and grass.
Tonight nine players will run to unchanging positions on the field. Someone will step up to a plate to swing a wooden bat. I know a lot of people (Sean included) get worked up about the young men who get paid to perform. Who the players are doesn’t really matter to me. The game matters. And the game, regardless of the screens and the news and the fraud and injustice, the melting ice caps and the senseless violence, is the same as it’s always been. It’s an escape and an answer.
For a couple of hours, I want to forget what’s wrong with the world into which I’m striving to eventually spring a couple of good kids. More than that, because I’m plagued by the same aspiration that afflicts humanity—sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse—I want to win.
On opening day, both the forgetting and the winning seem possible. And neither seems so bad.