On a Somber Day, Finding Comfort and Release in Baseball

It’s difficult for me to fully wrap my mind around the events of last night. I find myself feeling heartbroken for the victims and terrified that it could have happened to me or a family member. I can’t help but hating the shooter, but I also realize that it takes an immensely disturbed mind to even think of committing such an atrocious action, and that makes me more sad and confused than angry.

This post is not, however, a response to the shooting itself. Others will offer much more eloquent, thought-provoking, and emotional responses than me, and I wish not to even attempt to match them. The following words are rather a personal reflection on the comfort that I, and others I presume, draw from baseball at times like these, not just as a distraction from the horrors around me, but as a therapeutic release, a source of structure and purpose in times of chaos and despair.

No one will forget the first game played in New York after the September 11th attacks. The Mets were down 2-1 in the 8th when Mike Piazza hit a two-run moonshot to center, lifting the Mets to victory and the providing New Yorkers with a brief moment of pure joy in a time of immense sadness.

Mike Piazza's home run after the 9/11 attacks was a source of happiness to New Yorkers when happiness didn't seem possible.

That game and that home run were not just sources of escape. Rather than a simple distraction from the real world, Piazza’s home run was a real event – an undeniably positive occurrence in the shared experiences of millions of New Yorkers and Americans. Those that went to that game as a distraction and an escape from everything that reminded them of the attacks experienced so much more than a few hours of escape. They were united with those around them and left with pride for their city and their country.

The tragedy last night was, of course, not of the same magnitude as 9/11. But in a similar way, it has brought the country to a state of anguish and confusion. We each have our own ways of dealing with these intense emotions – some turn to prayer and reflection, while others become political in response. I do some of both, but that is not enough for me. In some way, my emotions in response to the tragedy need an anchor, a real part of life that both is a part of, and transcends, the world in which the event occurred.

For me, baseball can play this role. On the one hand, it is a game that is a world in of itself. The rules of baseball do not apply to real life and the goals of the game have little significance outside of the sport itself. When we listen to, watch, or attend a game, we are pulled out of reality, in much the same way that we forget everything around us when we read a book or play a video game or, sadly and ironically, watch a movie.

Yet, like a book or a video game or a movie, a baseball game’s effect is not confined to the time that we are watching or listening to it. We feel real, genuine joy when our team wins and disappointment when our team loses. To some, this may seem silly – how could we feel so strongly about a game when there are so many more important things happening around the world? I can’t say I entirely disagree with this notion; we should have emotional responses to important events around the globe. But the emotions that come from baseball, or any sport for that matter, are not trivial or fake feelings, just as the empathy I have towards a character in a book is not fake. It is entirely genuine and real, even if its object has little to do with the real world.

The fans at Citi Field on September 21, 2001, felt real, genuine happiness when Piazza hit that home run, happiness that was independent of the terrible events that occurred 10 days earlier. When they returned home, they had not forgotten about 9/11. But that game gave them real, unadulterated joy when the feeling of joy did not seem possible. That baseball game was an unreal bubble in a far too real world, a soldier’s novel during a time of war, a fairy tale told to a scared child. It transcended reality but provided entirely real therapy to those that desperately needed it.

Baseball is more than an escape - it is a source of comfort and purpose. (Image: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE)

Tonight, the New York Yankees will play the Oakland Athletics, and I’ll be in attendance for my first Yankees game of the year. I have a lot of feelings about the Colorado shooting, some of which I have talked about here. But tonight, I’ll be cheering for Ivan Nova to dominate the A’s, for Alex Rodriguez to hit a home run, for Rafael Soriano to untuck. When I come back home, I’ll read more about Colorado, about the shooter and the victims and the families and the horrors that took place. But I’ll carry with me the experience of seeing the Yankees play, and hopefully win. Even if they lose, my disappointment will be anchored to a structured game, a fantastical reality that continues to exist even when the world around it changes.

I hope you find that therapeutic release tonight and this weekend. If you’re reading this, chances are you’re a baseball fan like me. If you are, and you’re wondering how to respond to your feelings of sadness and anger and confusion, watch a game. Don’t ignore what is happening in the world around you, but also don’t feel like you must not think about or care about anything else. Care about what happens in the game, smile when your team scores a run and yell at a player when they hit into a double play. Get into it! When the game is over, and the harsh reality of the world comes crashing down, take that excitement, that passion, those real emotions, with you. Hopefully, if you’re like me, you’ll find comfort, structure, and purpose in a world that feels so chaotic.

Topics: 9/11, Baseball, Colorado, Mets, Mike Piazza, New York Yankees, Reflection, Shooting, Yankees

Want more from Yanks Go Yard?  
Subscribe to FanSided Daily for your morning fix. Enter your email and stay in the know.
  • arth65456

    Matt, this is a very awesome article that everyone should be reading! You talk about the Piazza home run very well and that was a good healer for NYC as well as the Yankees’ magical wins during their run to Game 7 of the 2001 World Series. Sports does bring therapeutic release, but it also brings unity. I remember last season when the Mets were playing the Phillies. Two bitter rivals came together to chant USA-USA when it was announced that Osama Bin Laden had been killed. Sports unites a nation and brings hope to others regardless of what fan you are!

    • http://YanksGoYard.com/ Matt Hunter

      I completely agree. I talked more about how sports can help the individual, but you’re completely right about sports bringing people together, even bitter rivals.

  • Chris_Carelli

    Matt, excellent piece of writing. I remember attending many Yankee games after September 11th and into the postseason and as you said, while that was a much larger scale, the point remains that baseball and sports in general can provide a place to go for a few hours to allow for the “release” you suggest. It definitely did that for me then.

    • http://YanksGoYard.com/ Matt Hunter

      Yeah. I think it’s an interesting dichotomy, that baseball both acts as an escape and a release, but also can offer a different perspective for fans, and have a lasting impact beyond the game and help people grapple with those tough moments in life.