It’s Always Different

What’s going to happen this Opening Day? (via Erik Drost)

“I find this a fascinating phenomenon: the ability we have to manipulate ourselves so that the foundation of our beliefs is never shaken.” – Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Something happens the day after the World Series. The season crystallizes. No longer changeable and active, it is put away for posterity, and all of us spend the winter dwelling on the final pictures. How to improve upon the failure or sustain the success. You know the drill.

There tends to be an assumption things will stay largely the same. You get a feel for the players, for how the front office does business. You tend toward the hopeful or the pessimistic. It’s a feeling we all experience in every part of our lives. The ease of sameness. The assumption tomorrow will be like today. This season will be like last season. Nothing is easier than staying the same, it seems. But then, nothing actually stays the same. No baseball team stays the same from one year to another, much as we might want to believe the best ones do.

And what do we all want from our teams anyway? We want change. Dynamism. Even the fans of World Series winners. You know everyone is gunning for you, so get a new shortstop or a new starting pitcher. Move the center fielder over to left and call up that promising new guy. Keep moving. Keep moving. Keep moving. Today is Opening Day, but this Opening Day won’t be the same as last Opening Day.

Moving like that is hard, though, isn’t it? Don’t we all know the difficulties of active change as opposed to passive change? It is much easier to allow time to drag us along with it than it is to try to arrange things as time swirls all around us. To try this and finally get around to that.

Why is that so hard? Because to step in, to alter the trajectory of an existence is to admit the trajectory on which we currently reside doesn’t end in a satisfactory place. We aren’t happy with what we’ve put together, and it’s a blow to the ego to admit that. The Elegance of the Hedgehog is a strange book. I don’t know that it could have less to do with baseball than it does, but at its core is the idea that we sometimes need a shakeup and that it can take something enormous–a seismic shift–to make us realize it. Sometimes we need that, a shaking in the foundation of our beliefs.

Baseball is undergoing a shift. We’ve seen it for the last few years: the idea of blowing up a team and taking the time to rebuild. It’s frustrating, especially when the team is really awful for a few years. But there’s something, perhaps, to admire in it. Starting over. When I was a kid, my mom liked to say, “Sometimes, you have to make a mess to clean a mess.”

Spring is the messiest time of year if you live somewhere with four distinct seasons. We cloister ourselves in the winter, windows shut tight, letting whatever is happening under the snow happen. Then things start to thaw, and the rain comes, and the mush turns into soup, and then there’s suddenly a warm sunny day and you can step outside and see what happened the last three months.

And there’s work to do. Almost everything is still brown and probably more than a little mushy, but there are also a few flowers around. You can use your imagination. You can let it go, sure you can. It’ll be mostly the same. There will be a few more weeds. The paint will peel a little more, and the year will pass and you won’t notice the change without looking. But it’s still there. The walls never fall down until they do.

But if we acknowledge the direction of it all? What then? The Reds just signed Eugenio Suarez to a long extension. Suarez is a very different player than he was a couple of years ago. Why? Because he decided to change. He decided to work on things. He didn’t have to, but he decided to.

This happens a few times every year around baseball. It’s the best kind of surprise. It’s what makes bad teams suddenly good from time to time. Maybe the front office hasn’t brought in anyone new and exciting. But a few players have worked to change, and suddenly that team that wasn’t very good makes a little bit of noise.

April happens and maybe you think it’s just small-sample size. That’s the rational thing. But you also remember the stories about how this player was working on part of his game, so you hope. And May comes and June and July. And maybe they fade. But maybe they don’t. Maybe that work wasn’t just talk. Maybe it was real and it mattered, and look how much better things have gotten.

All of us have an idea about how we want things to be. With our baseball teams or our yards or our lives. And some of us, maybe, are there. Astros and Cubs fans feel pretty good right now, for the most part. For the rest of us, it’s spring, and we will see. Maybe your team has done the work it needed to do. I hope so. But if not, well, it’s a good time for all of us to step outside and see what’s started to bloom and what else might with just a little work.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

Jason teaches high school English, writes fiction, runs a small writing program and writes about education and literature. He also writes for Redleg Nation and both writes and edits for The Hardball Times. Follow him on Twitter @JasonLinden, visit his website or email him here.
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6 years ago

Very nice.

Dennis Bedard
6 years ago

To steal from Samuel Johnson, Opening Day is like a second marriage, a triumph of hope over experience.

Las Vegas Wildcards
6 years ago

Yes, change is inevitable, both in sports, and in life. But unlike the baseball team we follow, we are the captains of own own ships. Life shouldn’t be a dreary exercise expecting not to wind up in a satisfactory place. Like a successful baseball team, one should cultivate talent, and put in the work to reach a desired objective. Nobody deserves anything, it’s a grind.

6 years ago

I’d like to add one more thing: be more patient to people new to this industry! We all were in their shoes and shouldn’t forget how it feels, as says essay writing service about students.