Interstate 71

I know this road better than any road I’ve ever driven. I’ve been up and down it countless times. Up for court. For a meeting. For a firm retreat. For a ballgame.  The first time I ever drove it was to take some eighth-rate speed metal band up to a gig in 1991. I was the only one in the dorm with a car and they paid for my gas and cover charge so they could make the trip from Columbus back to Cleveland and make a couple hundred bucks. Interstate 71. About 135 miles. I could drive it with my eyes closed.

It’s been three years since I’ve driven it with trepidation, but I still can’t feel at ease on this road.  Back then I was on my way to a meeting in which I was told in no uncertain terms that I didn’t have much of a future with my law firm. Before that I was on my way to a hearing in which the judge, my opposing counsel and my client all seemed to conspire against me.  Before that it was for training. For recruiting. For an interview. I’ve driven this road with stress far more often than without.  I tense up at Lodi. I sweat at Linndale. I get a feeling of resignation by the time I hit Ontario Street. I suppose it will always be this way.

I’m driving it today for a good reason. A baseball game. Invited to the Indians’ social suite to take in one of the last games of the year. Jim Thome tribute night. I’m honored by the invitation. Surprised that anyone knows or cares who I am, let alone thinks enough about me to offer me a ticket to a baseball game. I park the car and enter the ballpark an hour before the game starts.  I get a message from a reader who knows I’m here. He wants to meet me. I make my way to where he is. We talk for a few minutes. He’s a lawyer too. We talk about old cases and people we have in common.  I like to be reminded of my old life. It helps me remember how fortunate I am to have my new one. I value them both for different reasons. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to completely leave the old one behind.

Baseball has always been an escape. When I was a kid and we moved so often baseball was always a source of gravity for me. No matter where I was or what new school I had to become accustomed to, I knew where the ballgames were and they brought me comfort and constancy and predictability.  When I lost my way in my professional life baseball was there for me again. It was the only source of hope I had for many years and it eventually led me out of the darkness and into happiness. Sometimes I think I was outrageously lucky that my little blogging hobby didn’t ruin my life and that it was sheer dumb luck that I turned it into a career. Other times I am convinced that baseball knew that I needed it and saw to it that I would be taken care of.

Baseball is my job now, but it is still an escape.  Life has grown complicated lately. For a number of reasons, happiness has been hard to come by for the past few months. I wonder what I’d do if, instead of baseball, I had to deal with some contract dispute or the defense of some spoiled son of a CEO during working hours.  I’m pretty sure I’d simply fall apart. Instead I have baseball to greet me in the morning and to keep me company. It and the other people who write about it and the readers and everything else. It has saved me. It saves me every day.

There are around 2,500 baseball games played every year, but there is only so much that can happen in a baseball game. This one soon unfolds like any other game. The repetition is a comfort. Knowing that a ball hit here will end up there. That this pitch leads to that pitch and then on to another. This is mainlined zen, putting my mind and heart at ease. Each pitch, each putout helps me order my universe and helps me put my problems at a safe distance.

The game ends in spectacular fashion. There are two heroes. Thome, the man who’s night it is and Santana, the man who was a kid when Thome’s career began. I’m glad I’m not on the clock tonight, forced to write about the game. I’ve had increasing trouble writing about the specifics of any one game recently. The existence of 15 games a night and those 2,500 a year have meant way more to me. Baseball as a phenomenon, as a constant, has mattered to me in ways that actual baseball games have not. Any one game is but a drop in the ocean.  I need to do something about this because it’s making it harder to do my job, but I put that off and for tonight feel happy that there was a game in front of me, regardless of what happened. That there were 12 or 13 other played in other cities, regardless of what happened there too.

On the way back to my hotel room I stop in a bar and order a drink. A blues trio is playing. As I get lost in the whiskey and the music I try to think about where I am and how I got here. About the things that have preyed on my mind lately. There are problems in my life that need attending to. I don’t know when or how I’ll do that. This evening I can’t really care.

Tomorrow I’ll get back on that road. As I turn off Ontario Street, onto the freeway and past Linndale and Lodi, I’ll again get five-year-old pangs of stress. Phantom pains from a distant life and time. It will always be that way.  That will subside eventually, and I’ll start to think about the here and now. The things that truly are problems.  But at least I’ll have another slate of 15 ballgames to consider. To serve as a stabilizing influence on my psyche. Not because of what they are – indeed, I’ll probably watch none of them and will only think of a couple – but because I know they are there.

Craig Calcaterra

Craig is the national baseball writer for NBCSports.com. He writes about things other than sports at Craigcalcaterra.com. He lives in New Albany, Ohio with his wife, two kids, and many cats.

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