If you stayed up to watch Game 2 of the 2017 World Series, it’s highly likely you were exhausted this morning. That’s not because the game went all that late (considering it went to extra innings, the pace was comparatively brisk for this postseason), but because you went through a probably-unhealthy number of emotions.
Assuming the point of view of an Astros fan, you thrilled at Marwin Gonzalez launching a game-tying home run against the previously invincible Kenley Jansen. You felt your stomach drop to the floor after Logan Forsythe slid into home just ahead of Brian McCann’s tag. In between those huge moments, you were left a tense ball of exposed nerves, scared to breathe lest it push one of Giles’ fastballs that much closer to the middle of the strike zone. And maybe you were allowed a brief reprieve to laugh at the ball bouncing off Chris Taylor’s head, or Yasiel Puig’s continuing relationship with his bat.
This is always what we’re looking for in our entertainment, isn’t it? To be made to experience emotions? Almost every genre is organized by what it evokes in us: comedy, suspense, horror, drama, romance. Sports in general, and for my purposes baseball in specific, are the perfect environments for experiencing these emotions, because they straddle the line between fantasy and real life, taking from the best of both.
Baseball is real life, pretty much. It is real people doing real things in real time, so the tension and drama are real: we honestly do not know what will happen next. With, say, a horror movie, we can always complain that the plot is obvious, the monster is cheesy, an actor is terrible. No such complaints to be found in sports. This is all the result of athletes competing against each other, and it has not (unless you’re extremely cynical about the league’s influence over game outcomes) been scripted.
But it still isn’t “real life”, not really. As much as we may be emotionally invested in the outcome of a game, we are getting that adrenaline rush not because of any real threat to our well-being. And whether or not our team wins doesn’t carry the real-world consequences of, say, an election, or a war, if we really wanna go crazy. We’re free to dispense with the nuanced thinking that real life requires, because ultimately this game doesn’t matter. The stakes are simultaneously incredibly high and completely non-existent.
I don’t know about you, but this opportunity to momentarily devote my mental energy to something that doesn’t have consequences that could fundamentally change the course of civilization for decades is a very welcome thing. Too much of life these days is dealing with existentially crushing decisions. It feels good to, for a few hours of your day, place all your psychic energy on where a ball goes. This, at least, is something you can forget about tomorrow.