The Simple Bliss Of Baseball
I was walking down a dark hallway Friday night, not quite feeling like myself. Could be some looming panic, could be the strength of the Mai Tai I was sipping on. But regardless, I was in a dark hallway when a voice started singing. Although I couldn’t see it and had never heard the song before, I knew it was the Ukrainian National Anthem (which I later found out to be sung by a young Ukrainian boy, who was born in Chernobyl of all places). It was a stark and sobering reminder that all is not well in the world. Thousands of miles away, people are losing their country, their homes and their lives for no reason. Even though war is a concept that we’ve been conditioned to be familiar with, it feels all too visceral and real in the connected age we’re living in. In some sort of way, we’re all feeling a sense of malaise just from existing in 2022. The future has never been more uncertain and many of the challenges we’re facing are out of our control. The question is, how do we get by? How can we live our day-to-day lives without driving ourselves insane with dread? We look for the little things to make us happy. It’s what we have always done and it’s what we’ll always do. It’s human instinct to search for endorphin release and it’s what kept us a semi-functional society.
On that particular night, 32,000 people also heard the anthem and probably were presented with similar conundrums. As we stood there, waiting to see men play a children’s game, it was a child reminding us of the hardships of life. There’s an inherent guilt that comes from this, and I feel it deeply right now as I write these words to digital page. But once again, I must maintain that in order to carry on, we need to find joy out of life, regardless of grave circumstances. We took the time to acknowledge the hardships of others and that’s honestly more than a lot of people probably did in that moment in time. And when that time was over, we sat down to engage in the one thing that collectively made us all happy: baseball.
The beauty of baseball is that at any given moment, at any given time, something great can happen. It was an unassuming game only one month into the season, with an unassuming pitcher on the mound against an evenly-matched division rival. The best outcome within reason would be a win and that was what we were there to see. The Mets starter, Tylor Megill, flashed some early dominance. He quickly retired the first 5 batters before walking Kyle Schwarber in the second. The next batter hit a laser to center field that was effortlessly caught by Brandon Nimmo. In the next inning, there was another lucky lineout to Jeff McNeil. Then, Jean Segura blasted one to center field that was surely going to drop. But somehow, Nimmo saved the day again. It was at that moment that I got the weird feeling in my stomach. Something was developing and there was a faint glimmer of hope that it could actually be completed.
It was at that moment, I didn’t hope, but knew that we were going to see something special.
But every out was contended and earned. The Phillies made Megill work for everything, constantly getting into full counts and working his pitch count. In the end, he only lasted 5 innings and although no hit was allowed, the odds of keeping that streak alive were slim to none. There’s a reason why combined no-hitters aren’t common. A no-hitter relies on the pitcher being completely on point, but also lucky as hell. It’s hard enough for one man to have that, let alone 5 of them on the same exact night. There’s a certain cosmic energy to a no-hitter that never seems to get transferred to a relief pitcher. So we all laughed at the idea of the no-hitter continuing as Drew Smith took the mound with the top of the Phillies order coming up to bat. But he still mowed them down effortlessly, striking out 4 of the 5 batters he faced. But then out came Joely Rodriguez to relieve him. He had an ERA over 7 and walked the first batter quicker than he would want to admit. But then, somehow, that set up a double play and the dream stayed alive.
Since I’ve been following baseball, there’s been nothing I wanted to see live more than a no-hitter. I’d even take it over a World Series victory, mainly because it’d be too damn expensive. My seat to this game cost me 9 whole dollars and after 7 innings, it felt worth a hundred times that. The crowd was starting to get restless. We were excited but also scared out of our minds. There was a thick cloud of nervous energy that you could see on everyone’s face. Most didn’t want to speak of it due to superstition. Others just couldn’t believe it was even possible. In their 60 year history, the Mets have only had one single no-hitter. And it was a game so heavily embedded in the fandom lore that Rachel has the date tattooed on her arm. Surely there was no way that it would happen again on this unsuspecting April evening. Surely there’s no way that we would be that lucky to witness it. And as Seth Lugo walked out of the bullpen gate, we just sat there and waited to hear the crack of a bat, followed by a collective groan and sign. And we did hear the bat crack twice, but the ball went nowhere both times. Suddenly, there were 3 outs standing in the way of history.
Trumpets played and Edwin Diaz came out to do the impossible task. A task seemingly even more impossible considering his track record. Although he’s usually reliable, it’s never without a struggle. Typically, he’ll allow a baserunner or two before shutting it down. But even from a distance, I could tell that something was different with him. The man had ice water in his veins and every single one of his pitches hit the mark. Bryce Harper didn’t know what to do. He just swung helplessly. As did Nick Castellanos. So it all boiled down to JT Realmuto. 32,000 plus on their feet, not knowing what was going to happen next or how it would make them feel. We didn’t know whether to stay quiet for his concentration or to make noise to pump him up. We didn’t know what to do, period. So we watched. And watched. And watched.
And then it happened.
No matter how hard I try, I cannot express the raw emotion that I was feeling in that moment. All we could do was scream on the top of our lungs. Rachel and I embraced for what seemed like forever and tried our best to make each other go deaf. We didn’t want to leave. Nobody did. We soaked it all in and breathed in the rarified air. I wish I could’ve bottled it, but then I’d never be able to let the air escape. It would be a fruitless endeavor. But I will try my best to remember this moment for the rest of my life. I might not have a problem doing that.
We collectively live in miserable times. We don’t know if things will get better, especially for the generations after us. But not all is lost. Because on Friday, it was made very clear to me that we can still indulge and feel bliss. There is still magic to be found if we look in the right places. We are all capable of happiness even in dire circumstances. On April 29th, 2022, among a plague, a recession and a looming World War, for one small sliver in time, a stadium full of people rejoiced and felt infinite. And that’s the power of baseball.