When I was a boy, I leapt out of bed, every morning. I loved baseball. I wanted to eat the cereal that ballplayers ate, gorge myself on baseball statistics, and steep myself in the history of the game. Most of all, I wanted to grab my mitt and bat and play, all day long. When my palms and fingers blistered from hours in the batting cages, I watched baseball on TV, live during the season and on tape during the winter. TBS and WGN made a small-town Ohio baseball lover’s life in the days before 200 channels and the Internet.
In the months leading to every summer of my youth, I begged my parents to drive me from Ohio to Cooperstown, New York, to the baseball hall of fame. They conceded, twice. My passion was convincing, and/or just annoyingly persistent enough.
I also loved to read as a child, especially Stephen King novels, though I was a little young for the subject matter at age 10 (according to the local librarian, who scolded my parents). It was the greatest day of my life, seeing Stephen King at the baseball hall of fame. I was a bit saddened by his horrific body odor, but I was inspired to write and use oodles of deodorant.
On that same trip, I bought one pack of 1984 O-Pee-Chee baseball cards, and it contained the vaunted Don Mattingly rookie card that I so desired. I still keep it on my desk at work. It was the greatest day of my boyhood, hands down. You heard me, Disneyland.
Since 1992 or so, I haven’t cared that much about baseball. Maybe in college I realized there’s a world bigger than the game I loved, that my sense of enchantment could be delusional, escapist, counterproductive. The baseball strikes didn’t help; seeing my wealthy heroes whine took a toll on my enthusiasm.
I’ve tried in my adult life to rekindle my passion for baseball. Fantasy baseball is all consuming and out of the question. In the early days of fantasy (Micro League, true believers), I permanently lost street cred for trading Honus Wagner for a case of Budweiser once my championship hopes had been dashed. Seemed practical at the time.
I’ve adopted the local Giants and go to a few games a year. I’m jaded and attend only when work events or connected friends enable free premium seats. I’m deeply ashamed to not know most of the players’ names or their stats. I am overwhelmed by my own loss of zeal.
I turn 40 this week. I was never meant to be a Major League Baseball player. Or a finance guy, my current profession. I’m almost 40, so by definition, I have no idea what I’m supposed to do with my life. I suppose I will happily accept being a regular guy, whatever that means. Like most humans, I’ve always wanted to be famous, remembered, big time. However, these days, I’m pretty happy to be regular ‘ol me and not Kathleen Sebelius or Miley Cyrus.
When asked what I do for a living, I always joke that I’m a failed writer. I’m not joking. My executive coach says I shouldn’t present myself that way, although my self-effacing humor shows humility and makes me an attractive, vulnerable leader. I just lay it on a little thick. After all, she says, you still write. You have a blog. Uh, that’s precisely what confirms my position in life as a failed writer.
Most guys my age have kids, and likely throw their arms in the air and concede it’s time to nurture the next generation, to make sure they make different, better mistakes than we did. I have neither the luxury nor the burden, yet.
I have a couple decades to do something with my life, something meaningful. I have precious little time to define meaningful. Tesla has made the midlife-crisis-sports-car purchase socially responsible, but financially reckless. I already work with nonprofits. I want to write more, but I don’t, and I’m out of excuses.
Multiple screens of infinite data should feed my passion, not zap it. All the world’s knowledge is at my disposal. How to funnel all the glorious noise into something useful, something worthy?
I know what I won’t do next. I won’t check any of my four email accounts. I won’t browse your rants about Obamacare, or stare mindlessly skyward, dreaming up something profound to tweet. I won’t spend an hour realizing, yet again, that there’s nothing on Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go or 200 cable channels worth watching.
I might go outside and walk the blocks, flitting through my iPhone in search of a song I don’t detest, wondering where my passion has gone. I’ll wonder why I’m here, and what I’m supposed to do with the rest of this life, this overwhelming, beautiful life.
Then I’ll pick up my ball and my glove, and I’ll sprint to the school up the street. I’ll wing that ball against the brick wall, fielding hot grounders off the cement, imagining they’re flying off the bat of Yasiel Puig.
I’ll acknowledge and sit with the pain of seeing my beloved Don Mattingly in Dodger blue, and through that pain, maybe, just maybe, something will come to me.