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On experiencing baseball

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Got that Jay Bruce hair
Got that Jay Bruce hair

Look, we all know it. Only the most fanatical, illogical, ridiculous, and likely oblivious fans among us think our boys have a chance this year. Most are predicting that the Reds have a better shot at losing 100 games than they do winning 81. They had a good run, you know. We have had a decent five-year stretch of relevance, but that window shut with a thud some time ago. This team is clearly a loser now.

And that is a hard reality to face, right? Baseball is a competition, and when your team is not competitive, it can be frustrating, boring, and worst of all, embarrassing. Many face this with apathy. Why tune in, why buy the ticket, why check the boxscores when you already know the outcome? The thrill is predicated on uncertainty. "Can they win it all this year?" For a good while, we have been able to answer, "Oh yeah. This gon be good." Of course, they didn’t, but that’s not really the point. They could have. They had a shot. That uncertainty captured our attention. There is no uncertainty this year, though. We all know it.

We could stroll around town with pride knowing our team was a contender. Reds gear flew off the shelves at local retailers. The stadium had a few empty seats here and there, but mostly folks showed up because it was exciting. We swept our fingers across the brims of our New Era hats and beat our chests and shouted wildly as our team rolled through the division.

Not this year, though. There will be no sweeping of hats, beating of chests, or shouting of wilds. It’s gonna be a little harder to admit we are Reds fans. Each admission will be quickly followed by a knowing eye-roll and a shoulder shrug.

So how do we justify paying the 2016 Reds our attention and our money? Why should we put ourselves through that? Who wants to spend three hours and $50 to sit in the humid July of Cincinnati and watch the team get boringly embarrassed by the Cubs? That doesn’t make any sense.

***

AN ASIDE

As a young man, I was very religious. One of our code phrases was "Three to Thrive." If you were a Three to Thriver, then you were at the church three times a week: Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening. The phrase was a knowing wink: if you could pick it up, then we knew you were sufficiently dedicated to your spirituality.

As is not uncommon, my faith was fatally assailed when I went on to college. My exposure to radical ideas like, you know, human history, scientific progress, and so on shined a bright light on my dim understanding of things. Turns out, Rationality and Reason are like 500 feet tall. My faith shriveled and desiccated in their collective shadow. Faith was clearly a loser.

I picked up a major in philosophy after my second quarter. There were many reasons why, but that really isn’t important here. I wasn’t really sure what it was, but I realized that I knew next to nothing about it and that it was really, really difficult to pick up. The challenge was stimulating. The ideas we discussed in my philosophy classes were dense, nuanced, oblique, and way above my head. That didn’t really matter though, because girls thought I must be deep and sensitive and mysterious. They didn’t have to know I was full of shit, and they mostly weren’t sharp enough to tell either way.

Every now and then though, I was able to wrap my head around something totally sweet and radical. You know those times when you read something or watch something or hear something and it makes your back go rigid, your temperature to spike, and your mouth dry up? It’s like feeling the gravity of the entire universe on your lungs, if only for a few seconds. It is the feeling you get when the foundations of your entire belief system – everything you think is true about the world – are shaken. This happens a lot more when you are younger, largely because kids are idiots and what they believe is almost always built on shaky and vague notions they hardly even understand. But yeah, there isn’t any other feeling like it in the world. It’s better than sex. Of course, just like sex, it happens less and less as you get older.

Anyway, I had one of these soul-shakers reading Kierkegaard on faith. See, Kierkegaard was a very religious man, but he absolutely hated the Danish church all the phony organization and bullshit. He was writing mostly in the middle of the 19th century, in the wake of the first waves of the Enlightenment. Listen, it was totally hip back then to be all about science and reason and all that. Objective scientific observation was the only way to get at the Truth. Science was a winner too, as it had been roping doubles down the line for a good few hundred years at that point. You know, doing things like circumnavigating the globe, discovering planets, building the railroads, and other cool stuff like that. Science was the World Series favorite year-in and year-out, and Faith was a basement-dwelling laughingstock struggling to sell tickets.

Kierkegaard saw all of this and defiantly responded, "so what?" Here is a relevant ‘graf from his Concluding Unscientific Postscript:

Let us heed this well: For if he accepted it on the strength of a demonstration he would already be on the point of abandoning faith. If it gets that far, the believer will always have some guilt, to the extent that he has himself made the first move, and has begun by playing into the hands of unbelief by himself wanting to prove. Here is the rub, and I am led back to the case of theological learning. For whose sake is the proof furnished? Faith has no need of it, indeed must even consider it its enemy. On the other hand, when faith begins to feel ashamed of itself, when like a sweetheart not content with love but slyly ashamed of the beloved, and so needs it to be recognized that there is something exceptional about him, that is to say, when faith begins to lose passion, that is to say, when faith begins to cease being faith, it is then that the proof becomes a necessity, in order to enjoy general esteem on the side of unbelief.

See, for him, objectivity was deleterious. Once you began searching for objective scientific proof for, say, the existence of God, then you have already lost. Because just who are you trying to prove it to, anyway? Proof only works to convince the unbelievers, and ironically, seeking proof destroys the very thing you seek. He said we should let the scientists have all their sciencey stuff. That’s great for them. If you wanna crash photons into each other or build a bridge that will support the weight of big trucks or make a seatbelt that won’t cut people in half in a car crash, then science is where it’s at.

But he is on to something else altogether different.

The bit about the "sweetheart not content with love by slyly ashamed of the beloved" gets me every time. We have all been there. We meet someone new and fall real hard for her. She is terrific and warm and vibrant and a joy to be around, but once our friends meet her, we have to justify the whole thing. We have convince our stupid friends with evidence of how exceptional she is, rather than just be content with our passion. And that’s when the whole thing falls apart. Because who are you trying to prove it to, man?

That one blew my mind.

END ASIDE

***
You know, the Cubs and the Cardinals will demonstrate over and over again that they are the far superior teams. Their fans will sweep their fingers across the brims of their New Era hats and beat their chests and shout wildly as their respective teams roll through the division. They will file into Great American Ballpark in ever-increasing numbers, wearing smug smirks on their smug faces. They will prove, with certainty, that they are better than our Reds this year.

If you are the kind of person that gets your value, that justifies your worldview with this kind of objective proof, then good for you, I guess. But honestly, I think you are doing it wrong. Because really, for whose sake is this proof furnished? Do you only like baseball when it is demonstrated that your team can score more runs than the other team? What then? What despair you must feel when things don’t turn out your way. It must be desolate out there when your team ends up at the bottom of the division. If you judge the quality of your baseball experience by the objective qualities of your baseball team, you will almost always be unsatisfied. There is only one World Series winner a year, you know.

But for me, I enjoy my baseball regardless of the result. I enjoy it just because, you know? Without that, I would have to turn to the esteem of the others to justify my experience of it, right? Fortunately, I don’t give a damn what they think. Baseball is not atom-smashing or bridge-building. It is something all together different. They will look at the Reds this year and say, "Damn, the Reds suck this year!" and I’ll defiantly respond, "so what?"