Baseball

Steve Gonzales, Houston Chronicle

The storm was a trauma. Not just in the appropriate emotional sense of the way the word is often used today, but in the classic, pathological one: “a serious wound or shock to the body.” People lost their homes and jobs and businesses. People drowned. People walked around for weeks afterward on edge, nervous and irritable, scared without realizing it. Entire blocks looked like war zones, sodden and moldy trash piled by the curb. Recycling pickup was suspended because the trucks were needed to haul debris; it’s still a couple weeks away from starting up again. Tens of thousands of people are still displaced, living in hotels or apartments or with friends and family.

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Baseball is just a game. That’s all. It’s a game. You run around outside for a few hours. It’s for fun.

We like games, though, for the same reason we like good stories, or art, or the ability to travel. We are all constantly aware of the fleeting nature of our mortality: not that we will one day die, but that we will die and, in all likelihood, not be remembered. So we look down at these clumsy vessels and wonder how fast we can run, how high we can jump, how well we can take the thoughts and feelings that seem to exist for us alone and turn them into something that someone else can understand and, if only for a moment, embrace. We’re trying to make a mark, even if we can never define it more clearly than that.

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When the rain let up and we could all get out again, we all asked each other the same question: “Did you make it?” It was how conversations started with coworkers, cashiers, strangers on the elevator. You didn’t need to explain what you meant. And they’d either nod and say yes, they did, or they’d shake their head and say no, we didn’t. In those gray and fragile days, there was a sense of joining, of collective sheltering and support, that’s only possible between survivors of something horrible and random. We’d come just a little closer than usual to realizing how quickly everything goes. It’s why we latched onto things like “Houston strong” and charity campaigns. We were reaching out to each other, still trying to make those marks.

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Pop sports culture talks often about “bandwagon fans,” or “fair-weather fans.” This is usually done in a smug and condescending way, to differentiate those who have recently participated in the excitement that can sweep a city during a championship run from those who have been loudly suffering years of losses. This is, as you can probably tell, a really sad and small-minded way to live. If you’ve ever seen someone online brag about seeing a band live before you’d heard of them, you are familiar with the general vibe.

It’s also a fundamental misunderstanding of what can make games exciting for the people in town who only casually follow news about the local teams. Even non-fans have a general conception of what’s going on. When the team does well, we all know about it. It becomes part of the small talk that fills moments between citizens in public spaces. When the team does exceptionally well, and begins to approach making history, that conversation doubles and trebles in volume and intensity. Longtime residents reminisce about games from their childhood. Recent transplants learn about local history. It becomes the subtext of every conversation, a feeling in the air, a noticeable change in attitudes. People share.

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That’s what all this has been about, in tragedy and triumph: coming together. Talking with your neighbors. Asking not just “Did you make it?” but “Did you see that?!” Forgetting for a moment the methods we use every day to keep ourselves within our walls, and taking a moment to look someone in the eye and know that you have a shared experience. You know what it means to lose, and you know how it feels to win. You did both together.