“Why do you care so much about baseball? It’s just a game.”
I’ve been asked this question hundreds of times. Why baseball? Why not politics or medicine or law? Why not cars or camping or hunting? Why not something that actually makes a difference in this world?
If you asked me this question when I was 8, I would have answered, “Because it’s fun. It’s fun playing catch with Dad and it’s fun hitting the ball and running the bases and sliding. Baseball is fun.” When you’re 8 years old, fun is the highest priority.
As we age, for some reason, we forget how important fun is in keeping brains and bodies healthy. The pressures and stresses of daily life distract us and “fun” gets pushed further and further down the list of priorities. For some people, unfortunately, fun gets forgotten.
If you asked me this question when I was 15, I would have answered, “Because I’m going to play for the Kansas City Royals.” Playing baseball professionally was my dream. I remember attending a summer camp around the age of 10 and meeting a former minor league player. He said, “Do you know the odds of anyone in this camp playing professionally? Maybe one, possibly two of you will have any kind of baseball future after high school.” Encouragement wasn’t really his forte. For the remainder of the camp, the group of boys I was with fought to prove which of us was the chosen one. None of us made it.
My dream of playing baseball professionally kept me invested in school. I wanted to be recognized as a “student-athlete.” My last game, however, took place in the summer of 1991. I still had two years of high school left. I had to learn to dream new dreams. But I always knew where my glove was.
If you ask me this question today and give me time to reflect and think, this is how I will answer.
Baseball is a game of failure. This is the standard answer. But as a recovering perfectionist, learning to move forward after repeated failures is a good thing. Our culture is obsessed with overnight success stories. We need to be regularly reminded that failure is neither fatal nor final, just a necessary step of learning and accruing wisdom. Failure can be part of the fun.
Baseball is not fair. Some of the hardest hit balls still turn into outs. Strikes are called balls and balls are called strikes. Some teams have millions upon millions to freely spend; some don’t. Life is not fair. Keep playing anyway. And be quick to tip your hat.
Baseball is a reminder of just how little control we have over anything. Fans cannot control whether or not our favorite team will win any more than the hitter can control the outcome once the ball is put in play. Do your best in that moment, regardless of the outcome. Take a deep breath and enjoy the experience.
Baseball is for all people. Not just the José Altuves standing next to the Aaron Judges. The courageous stories of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League are still being lived out through organizations like Baseball For All and stress one important truth: Girls are ballplayers (and coaches and umpires and fans), too. Miracle League fields are growing around the world so every child can enjoy the thrill of crossing home plate. Baseball is a game for everyone.
In baseball, you are not alone. You take the field and play as a team who, if you’re lucky, will love and support you like family, through the highs and lows of a season. This world could use more of a team-mentality in daily life, especially if we could learn to see that we’re all on the same team. When our teammates struggle, we’ve got their backs, through the highs and lows of life.
Baseball tells the best stories. Every fan of every team has their favorite stories. I love the Hollywood-esque drama of the Royals losing the last game of 2014 and then winning the last game of 2015. Earlier this season, Alex Gordon was wearing an armband with the name “Charlie” written on it. Charlie is battling pediatric cancer and was scheduled for brain surgery. In the first pitch of his first at bat, Alex hit a home run. He tapped Charlie’s armband as he rounded the bases. There are stories like this at every level the game is played. (Check out America at the Seams if you don’t believe me.)
Baseball brings people together. I was quite fortunate to be included in the 2014 miracle season of Sungwoo Lee. Watching an entire city embrace this Superfan from South Korea was an experience I’ll never forget. Years later, every single time Sungwoo messages me, I still get a large smile on my face. I’ve seen Royals fans create t-shirts and raise money for pediatric cancer, the homeless, and the hungry. I’ve seen Royals fans create softball games to help families pay medical bills. Strangers brought together through the simple love of a game are making a difference in their city and beyond.
Baseball is a game of hope. Whether you win or lose, whether you’re the hero or the goat, the grind of a season of 162 games teaches us this: Tomorrow is a new day. Maybe today the Royals will start their 20-game winning streak. Maybe today we’ll see something we’ve never seen before, learn something we’ve never learned before. Until the last out is recorded, don’t give up.
Baseball is fun. Even in the middle of 100-loss seasons, there is joy to be shared through the misery.
It’s just a game.
And this simple game has much to teach us about living good stories.