election anxiety countdown

34 Days, 33 Days: Heartbreak

Some of the most frustrating TV watching I’ve ever endured dominated my experience of the last two days. There was the torturous debate, in which the President of the United States shouted incoherently for ninety minutes over Joe Biden and moderator Chris Wallace, and called for white supremacists to, “stand by.” I wrote on Tuesday that I felt it was important to witness the predictable train wreck. And I did. That miserable experience was sandwiched between something far less important but no less frustrating: two daytime first round baseball playoff games featuring my Minnesota Twins. They lost both games and their season is now over. The Twins’ streak of failure in the postseason has become a legendary one, despite having excellent teams these past two regular seasons.

Why have I’ve kept on watching Minnesota Twins baseball two decades after leaving Minnesota? Why didn’t I become a Nationals fan last year during their amazing championship run here in D.C.? It’s just a game. Aren’t the Twins just an expensive hobby for a family of bankers, A rare plaything with unique loopholes and regulatory exemptions from the Supreme Court and Congress?

Yes, but baseball is an expensive bankers’ plaything tangled up in memories of family and community. The game reminds me of my grandmother, who took joy in describing the quirks of each player as though they were her neighbors’ kids: this one makes the sign of the cross before each at bat, that one was lanky, or chubby, or rough. She was initially pulled in to watching games on her old TV by her children and grandchildren’s enthusiasm, but at some point started turning on the games herself. Following the Twins reminds me of the years when they won it all (1987 and 1991). These were perhaps the most unifying moments I experienced growing up. My parents, brother, classmates were all following the same thing, invested in the same outcome. The local media, every neighbor, every stranger, wanted the same result. We were all following the same characters on their heroes’ journey. As an adult, the only similar memory I have — and a far more meaningful one — is being on U Street the night Obama (a Chicago White Sox fan) was first elected President. And also, baseball stories run in my family. My parents and grandparents lived in the shadow of Minneapolis’ Nicollet Park, a baseball grounds from 1896 to 1955, which has figured into many family stories, including my Mom’s books of poetry.

Baseball’s ties to the literary are strong, and so I can also excuse the habit as a high-minded one. The New Yorker’s Roger Angell — who turned 100 in September — is the literary standard-bearer for the game. His mother Katherine White was an early fiction Editor at The New Yorker, and his stepfather was E.B. White. I have a copy of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style on my desk at all times. I think of it as a baseball book, because Angell wrote the foreword. I also think of Haruki Murakami’s tale of the afternoon baseball game in Tokyo he claims turned him in to a novelist. And I love knowing that the new-ish editor of The Paris Review, Emily Nemens, is one of us, looking at the game and its cast of characters cycling in and out of our lives through spring, summer, and fall, disappearing briefly for the winter — as so many things do.

Last winter, I was thinking of a project not unlike this 100-post election anxiety countdown. Could I write flash fiction or short nonfiction posts that would be tied to the 162-game baseball season? The tie would be as tenuous as the tie between these posts and politicking (so untied that I risk tripping over my shoelaces). But as the baseball season neared, the pandemic exploded. My attention was not on writing, and baseball seemed less relevant than ever. There’s always next year.

Update: A timely comment from Roger Angell on the debate.

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