Inside the Junk Drawer: Baseball

My family has a collection of baseballs, many of which we acquired as souvenirs from the gift shops of various museums, national parks and tourist attractions. Many of them display colorful photos of the locations they belong to. My favorite, however, is plain white and bears no marking but a single signature. It didn’t come from a gift shop, but an actual ballgame — an official MLB approved baseball.

Before COVID and college, we would go to exactly one baseball game every year as a family event. For our annual game in 2016, my dad splurged a bit more on tickets than normal. The purchase seemed, at least to my mom, ill-advised. After all, we had never once attended a game where our team, the Los Angeles Angels, actually emerged with the win. From what I understood about the team back then, that was par for the course for the Angels. My dad had memorabilia from when they won the World Series in 2002, but they had yet to match those heights since.

The better seats put us closer to the game, but we were also closer to the ground, and that made it hard to see what I actually wanted to see — the expansive diamond field and the players moving like specks within it.

Those seats, however, allowed my brother to go to the lowermost railing and wave at the outfielders for a ball. One was thrown up to my brother by then-Angels player Kole Calhoun, who was idly tossing it to someone else as practice. It was not a ball that had seen play, and it came from a player that, as far as I could tell, was more or less unremarkable in the larger scheme of baseball history. Even so, the baseball still stands as the most prized object in our collection. I suppose the game was worth it from that alone.

My induction into baseball fandom was a gradual one that began with the electric World Series at the end of that 2016 season, where the Cubs won against the Cleveland Indians in nail-biting fashion. Several years after that, I got really into an absurdist online baseball simulator during the pandemic, and then around the same time, a certain player on my team named Shohei Ohtani got really good at both pitching and hitting. I followed the Angels closer than before during the 2021-22 season. They once again failed to make it into the playoffs — but for the first time in my life, I felt truly disappointed about it.

At this point in my life, I’ve been exposed to plenty of sports other than baseball. My attachment to my dad’s favorite sport, however, has only grown stronger over the years. I acknowledge that a lot of people’s misgivings about it are valid. The game pace is slow, the nearly-daily games are too frequent to feel eventful, and a lot of the feats of athleticism in baseball are rather understated compared to sports with jumping, kicking, and tackling.

However, I can’t help but feel that there’s something unique about baseball that lends itself well to a deep cultural mythos, of the type that incites superstition and intrigue. With baseball — the ball being as small as it is and the moment of the swing being so instantaneous, so blink-if-you-miss-it — the act of making contact between the ball and the bat takes on an atmosphere of mystique. The amount of downtime before each swing only fuels the tension between the possibilities ahead (hit or strike,  hope or despair) that boils to a fever pitch by the time the throw is delivered. In the split second of the ball hurtling through the air, anything feels possible.

The latest ballgame I attended with my family was between the Los Angeles Angels and the Houston Astros in September 2022. It was either a good day for pitching or a bad day for hitting, because the game was still 1-1 by the end of the 9th inning. It stayed like that through the 10th, then the 11th. As the game went deeper into the night, people slowly started leaving the stands, but I remained alert, a part of me rooting for the static state of the game to go on for a while longer.

It was during those teased-out innings, when every pitch could end the game but never did, that baseball’s draw became most apparent to me. What other game could be so drawn out, with both a win and a loss within arm’s length but never close enough? I reveled in the uncertainty of it. It gave me room to hope.

The hope paid off when the Angels won at the bottom of the twelfth inning with a single. It was not a conventional victory, or even a particularly deserved one, but for those reasons I liked it all the better.

Perhaps the next game I attend, we’ll win again. Even if we don’t, I can still hope that with every pitch, the batter might foul such that the baseball lands right on my outstretched hand in the stands. Maybe I’ll even bring a glove.

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