It feels weird that the 2012 baseball season ends on a Wednesday. I’m used to the season coming to an end on a Monday – I worked in minor league baseball for several years, and their season usually ends on Labor Day – or a Sunday. But, Wednesday it is.
Like most people who work in baseball, I’m terrible at saying goodbye, even though there are several people I probably should say goodbye to. I come into contact with dozens of people over the course of a season, people I see at every home game. There’s the security guard I wave to as I walk from my car to the ballpark, the attendant I make small talk with as I wait for the clubhouse to open, the writers with whom I talk baseball. I talk to some more than others, but we all are united because of baseball. But, on Wednesday, the last game will be played and we’ll scatter without much acknowledgement.
And, that’s the thing: because we’re united by baseball, there seems to be little reason to communicate once baseball season ends. Plus, an effort would have to be made to communicate in the off-season, whereas in-season communication is effortless. I’ll cross paths with some of them before next season, but not with the same frequency. Many of us will go months without seeing each other, if we ever see each other again. The following year, there are always new faces and faces that disappear; questions will be asked about the people who are gone but, rarely, is there any follow up, regardless of the circumstances that led to that person’s departure from our daily baseball routine.
It always takes me several days to decompress from baseball’s every day routine. Since early March, when I was in Arizona for spring training, there’s been a game to cover, post-game work to do, a player to interview, a manager to question every single day, save for the handful of off-days scattered throughout the season and spring training. You have to be wired a certain way to deal with the baseball grind; most people can’t handle a schedule with no weekends off and few evenings off. Few would want to deal with a summer with brief vacations – if any vacations – and the constant travel (I currently don’t travel with a baseball team during the regular season, but I did for seven years) that covering baseball requires. I figured out right away that the baseball lifestyle suits me, but it takes a little while to get used to a normal lifestyle again, with more evenings at home and no game every day.
No baseball team I’ve covered as a play-by-play broadcaster or pre- and post-game show host has made it to the postseason, and I would imagine it takes even longer to recover from a stretch with heightened intensity and uncertainty surrounding when – and how – the ride will end. But, watching postseason baseball helps me decompress. There are still daily games, but I’m not covering them, so I can watch a game without thinking about anything other than watching the game; I can tune in and out whenever I choose and I don’t have to concern myself with every detail. The postseason is the only time I really get to watch baseball as a fan, even though I’m not rooting for any of the teams.
Growing up, I used to suffer from baseball withdrawal. The end of World Series was always sad to me, because I wouldn’t have any baseball to watch for more than four months. When my Sports Illustrated would come in the mail, I’d scour it for any baseball nuggets, and I would do the same whenever I got my hands on a newspaper. But, as I got older and developed an affinity for other sports and cultivated other interests, that withdrawal waned until it eventually disappeared. I still miss baseball during the off-season but, the melancholy feeling has been replaced by a sanguine one; random stories and notes about the upcoming season get me excited about what lies ahead.
Even though I love baseball, I’m not a typical fan; I don’t see the game the same way an average fan does. The baseball off-season gives me a chance to be a fan of other teams and other sports. My attention turns to the New York Giants and Syracuse basketball in particular. I follow their games passionately and emote over every occurrence – good or bad – in their games, something I don’t do while watching baseball anymore. I also keep close tabs on the New York Knicks and on Syracuse football but, since both of those teams have struggled mightily for several years, I tend not to be as invested in their success – or, more accurately, their failures. Also, it’s possible for me to watch virtually every Giants and Syracuse basketball game live with minimal effort and little-to-no cost; the same isn’t true for the Knicks or for Syracuse football.
I also use the baseball off-season as a chance to cover other sports. This will be my 10th consecutive winter doing basketball play-by-play and, in many of those years, I’ve also called football. My preparation for the basketball and football games that I call is more detailed and nuanced than it would be if I wasn’t calling baseball. During a baseball season, there’s little time to slow down and think too far ahead. But, with basketball being two or three times a week and football being once a week, there’s plenty of time to put together detailed notes and to gather information. Baseball play-by-play is my first love, but I enjoy the different challenges posed by calling faster paced sports as well. When I do baseball play-by-play, or even during my pre- and post-game shows, I like to tell stories and weave that day’s events into a larger narrative. But, in basketball and football, I enjoy the challenge of delivering the perfectly timed statistic or factoid; the action moves so quickly that, if you miss your chance to mention something, the pace of the sport often won’t allow you another opportunity.
Right before either my fourth or fifth year covering baseball, I was worried because the season was about to start and I wasn’t particularly excited and I didn’t feel energized. Do I still want to do this? I thought to myself. Then, I gradually started my preparations for the season and realized that, as I dipped my toe deeper into the baseball waters, that excitement and enthusiasm began to emerge. Later, it occurred to me that I’d been through the grind of so many baseball seasons that my mind and my body knew what to expect and, as a result, were conserving energy. They knew how long the season was and they weren’t going to expend energy or resources unnecessarily or prematurely. Before each game that year, I noticed I was very low key but, once the games started, it was like a switch went off and I immediately transformed into Baseball Mode. I still find myself switching Baseball Mode on and off, when needed.
I wonder if a day will come where I’ll tire of covering baseball, a day where I’m unable to switch into Baseball Mode as quickly as I do now and the grind becomes more of a burden and less of a badge of honor. That day has come for many of my friends and former co-workers who’ve left baseball; some of them don’t really miss it and some forever rue the day they departed. I hope that day never comes for me. Hopefully, I’m able to gear up and decompress for many more baseball seasons. Right now, I know I’m prepared for the end of this season and I’ll be ready for the beginning of next season.Follow @raford3