Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Long Dark: Saying Goodbye to Baseball

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The Long Dark: Saying Goodbye to Baseball

Most people crave autumn, but August’s finale guts me. Always the heartbreaking close of summer, no matter the weather, always the beginning of the end of baseball season, which is the beginning of the long dark.
-Holly Wendt

On Sunday, September 29, The Toronto Blue Jays played Tampa Bay in what was their last 2013 season game at Rogers Stadium. Over 45,000 people were there in a sea of blue. It was an unusually sunny day and the dome was open. I wore a t-shirt and drank a couple of beers (okay, three). I listened to the woman next to me explain the ground rule double to her nine year old daughter. The Jays dramatically came from behind but in the end they lost, and in many ways, it was just another game. But I went home and drank some more beers, because I knew exactly what the next day meant.

Thus begins what I ominously like to call “the long dark”—the vast, vacant space between the last live game you’re able to attend and that gleeful, optimistic day down south where pitchers and catchers report. (It’s just about 136 days, if you’re interested.) For me, everything in that bleak expanse in-between is waiting—an abyss, a black hole where hope seems so far off. Whenever I lament this end of baseball in such a melodramatic way, someone inevitably says “but the postseason” or “there’s always winter ball,” but for me, it’s always been about the ballpark and my access to it. If I can’t be in it, you can’t convince me there’s something to look forward to.

I attended twenty-six live games during the regular season this year. I went to celebrate my birthday and I went to console someone when she had a terrible week. I went with a stranger who became a friend and I went with my dad for what was probably the hundredth time. I went with devoted fans and I went with people who’d never been before. I went when I couldn’t understand what happened at the Boston Marathon and I went when my anxiety was so bad I could barely breathe. I went when I didn’t know what else to do and I went when it was the only thing I wanted to do. I went over and over and over again and it never got old, and if I could have gone more I would have.

I’ve never really understood why the ballpark is the one place where I feel the safest, the happiest, and the most like myself. The amazing part is that it doesn’t even matter what ballpark it is—the foreign diamonds found at the end of hasty road trips, the tiny gleeful stadiums of spring training, the neighbourhood parks of intercounty league. Even little leaguers tossing a ball at Christie Pits or drunk friends running the bases in a Toronto park in the dark buoy me. I have some loose theories about justice, and fairness, and community that I throw around when asked, about how it’s the closest I’ve ever been able to come to a religious-style faith, but for the most part the reason for the feeling of calm escapes me, and I refuse to question it.

I had an experience in New York earlier this year where I walked around the city for a full day coated in inexplicable dread, tied up in a sense of doom with no real source. Those who have anxiety disorder will know the feeling well—like moving under a suffocating shadow that refuses to make sense, but is all too real. No matter how many times you’re told to “calm down” and “relax” the worry doesn't leave. I was supposed to go to a Yankees game that evening—my first ever in New York—and I wasn’t really sure I could do it. The idea of an anxiety-stricken agoraphobic taking the subway to Yankee Stadium during rush hour seemed absurd, but I braved it anyway, packed in between the bodies of yelling, sweaty fans in Yankees caps on their way to 161st Street Station.

I swear to you, the exact moment I walked into that ballpark the feeling of fear was gone, lifted away by that low hum of fan devotion and that great field of Kentucky Bluegrass, the boys bursting from the dugout and the crack of the bat. Better than cognitive behavioural therapy or pharmaceuticals, the ballpark cured me just like it always does. Hell, I don’t even like the Yankees.

When I try to unpack my devotion to the church of baseball I actually wonder if it’s better to not write about these things—the sacred, secret places in our lives that keep us whole. Writing is a compulsion, but it’s also a job like any other, and there has to be an escape from it somewhere. Maybe I shouldn’t write about the ballpark in the same way I don’t write about the people who are closest to me, the things I want to keep safe and private. Of course I want to understand what it is about baseball's sights and smells and sounds that put me so at ease, but maybe it doesn’t matter why. Maybe it just matters that I’ve found something that does.

Baseball is a heartbreaker, and you have to be a bit of a masochist to love it like I do. It is, however, generous enough to give those of us with losing teams a slow transition into the long dark. LM Montgomery’s plucky heroine Anne Shirley said “I'm so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers,” and for now I’ll find solace in this final, glorious month—the playoff season and all its generous dramas.

And when winter comes I’ll watch replay montages at my desk while it snows outside, wear a team t-shirt under my scratchy sweater, and set a countdown clock to that hopeful day come spring, when pitchers and catchers report.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Stacey May Fowles

Stacey May Fowles is a writer and magazine professional living in Toronto. She is a regular contributor to The National Post books section and currently works at The Walrus. Her latest novel is Infidelity, out this fall with ECW Press.

Go to Stacey May Fowles’s Author Page