Do baseball statistics need better marketing? I don’t know. Do foul poles need better engineering? Does infield dirt need better tech support?
Bah! I hate February.
Months and months of winter. Indoors, confinement. Outdoors, concealment, under layers of jackets and ski hats and scarves. Long dark nights. Clouds, rain, snow and cold.
Every year from mid-February through early March, I suffer the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. My emotions bubble to the surface, ready to pop at the slightest touch. I get extremely irritable. I get angry for almost no reason. Setbacks make me depressed. Sometimes I even have panic attacks.
The same brain chemistry that makes you sleepy at night and alert in daylight causes SAD. A long winter with little sunlight builds up a light deficit in my brain. In February, the debt becomes due. My mind goes into a haze.
It’s not so bad here in America. In Sweden, where I’ve spent three winters of my life, the symptoms are far worse. That far north, the sun only spends a few hours each day in the sky. It peeks up over the horizon and drops right back down again. It provides no warmth. It’s just a little yellow dot off in the distance.
In the fogs of February, the sun is an abstraction. Joy is an abstraction. We can talk about them, but they are not real to me. The only thing that seems clear is that full control of your thoughts and feelings is an illusion.
The most religious experience I’ve ever had was after my first winter in Sweden. One day in late March, I walked outside. The temperature was probably about 10 degrees C (50 degrees F). The snow was melting all around. I looked up, and was stunned. I could actually feel the warmth of the sun on my face.
A true miracle.
At some point during the long Swedish winter, I had ceased to believe in the sun. I had become a solar atheist. But with a single, real sensation, I was born again. For several minutes, I just stood there, absorbing the warm rays like a dry sponge sucks up water. Hallelujah!
Back in the USA, it’s baseball that February transforms into abstraction. There are no games, no trades, no real baseball experiences. Baseball talk just feels hollow, without substance. You can try to touch it, but like fog, you can’t grab it. It’s not there. Everything seems absurd, like so much infield dirt tech support.
But in March, the first game I hear on the radio from spring training is my salvation. The rhythm of the broadcast, the sounds of the ballpark, the unfolding drama of the game: my senses bathe in the return of real baseball. When I feel baseball again, I feel my true self returning with it.
So it’s mid-February now. Today, we are babysitting my wife’s eight-year-old nephew and five-month-old niece, in addition to our own two girls, ages 6 and 3. My wife is taking care of the baby; I’m trying to handle the other three kids.
The nephew is always hungry. No sooner do you feed him one thing, than he’s asking what’s next. Usually, I find it amusing. Today, I find it annoying.
My wife put on a John Denver CD to sing to the baby. I start making lunch. The baby starts crying. I am reminded how absolutely impossible it is to ignore a crying baby. Nature’s perfect annoyance. My wife gives her a bottle. Things quiet down again, for the moment.
So John Denver sings. I cook. And a strange sensation comes over me. I am being profoundly moved by the music. A deep, emotional reaction. To John Denver.
That just ain’t right.
At that moment, I realized that my February blues had set in.
The baby starts crying again. Bottle won’t help this time. Can’t figure out what’s wrong. My three-year-old picks this moment to become jealous of the attention her mother is giving someone else’s baby, and starts a temper tantrum. “I want to throw all the food in the world on the floor! I want to break every window everywhere!”
I want to do something, anything, to make them stop crying.
The baby suddenly reveals what’s wrong. She also reveals she is ready for a larger diaper size. End temper tantrum: three year olds find messy diapers fascinating. Relief.
The stereo switches CDs: Carole King, Tapestry. I finish cooking lunch, and put it on the table for the kids. I go back to the kitchen, sit down, put my head in my hands, and breathe a deep heavy sigh. Three weeks to go.
Carole King sings:
Snow is cold, and rain is wet.
Chills my soul right to the marrow.
I won’t be happy till I see you alone again.
Till I’m home again and feeling right.
I wanna be home again and feeling right.
Nephew cleans off his plate and asks for more. He impatiently tries to con the girls into giving him some of their food. The girls respond by trying to annoy him. They start bickering.
I have a strong urge to put a stop to it. Instead, I put a stop to myself. I don’t need to control everything that’s going on. I can’t control everything. Control is an illusion. At some point, insisting on it is counterproductive. Let it go. Let the kids play.
Oh, and the original question: do baseball statistics need better marketing? My opinion: there are only 30 people in the world, one for each team, who need good baseball statistics. To the rest of us, statistics are an illusion: a trick that somehow we can control the fates of our favorite teams. We can’t.
The illusion is nice, but at some point, you’re better off just stepping back and taking a deep breath. Let the kids play.