But I Don't Want to Play Baseball!

child playing baseball and crying
Photo by Elisabeth Wales.

So your friend has just come back from his retreat and he’s pumped (right? it’s a male friend of course). He’s done the ten day that’s so common these days. You know the one: ten days of training that takes you from a basic level of fitness to a skilled baseball player ready to try out for the local minor league affiliate. He can’t say enough about how different he feels now, how focused, how he understands the game at another level.

“Yeah, that’s cool,” you say, a little reserved. Understanding the game at another level hasn’t been a concern of yours.

“Dude, you would love this,” he says. “I know you would. You’re always talking about how you want to get fit. After this retreat I am so ripped and there’s no way I’m going to stop the training. I totally get it now and I’m so motivated.”

“I mean, yeah, that sounds really great. I can see how much you’ve loved it. And I do want to push myself with a new training program. But I don’t know about baseball. I’m really not that into it.”

“Whatever dude. You play with us on the weekly league. After the training, you’ll get it.”

Your friend makes a compelling case. You do play baseball with the crew and it’s fun, the whole scene is great. And he’s clearly gaining–you’ve never seen him so solid and bursting with enthusiasm. You start to consider signing up. You check out a few podcast episodes with trainers from the retreat, you hear a few other satisfied participants.

At the end of the day, baseball is fine, right? You tell yourself that you’re not going to get fit in general, after all. You need to do some kind of exercise and what does it matter if it’s baseball or basketball or competitive kayaking? Football is out of course because of the concussions, but baseball seems fine. You’ve pretty much talked yourself into it. When you check yourself out in the mirror you can almost see your new biceps and leg muscles.

So you go to the retreat. It mostly pays off on what your friend promised. You feel great afterwards, you’re fit and strong, and you know how to apply that strength to the game. You’ve perfected the shortstop double play, you’re close to a 4.0 second sprint to first, and you’re batting .295. But if feels a little hollow, because you’re still not really into baseball. It feels weird to hit those achievements and still wonder: is this what I want to be doing?

stylized photo of baseball player sliding into base
Photo by Brandon Mowinkel.

That hollow feeling keeps growing every week and you let the training slide a bit more from week to week. By this point your friend has made the minor league team and is playing–he’s made it to the next milestone on the path. You can tell it’s not exactly what he expected, but he’s still focused on the path and committed to the training.

Rather than feel guilty about letting your training slide, you acknowledge to yourself what was true all along: “I don’t want to play baseball.” Baseball might promise some qualities you’ve been looking for, but you don’t want to spend your one wild and precious life on it.

I’ve struggled to explain to people what my perspective is on meditation and why I’m less than enthusiastic about the mindfulness trend. My ambivalence with baseball was so strong I didn’t even play consistently on a team or attend any training camps. Once I decided that I didn’t want to play baseball (or cosplay Japanese temple, or concentrate with laser-focus, or attend month-long retreats, or just learn to de-stress and keep showing up at work), I wondered whether this was true for other folks who hadn’t admitted to themselves that baseball might not be a good fit either, even though it’s fun to be on the team with your friends for the weekly game. That is, if mindfulness is powered by a religious system that most mindfulness boosters wouldn’t explicitly accept or acknowledge maybe people are just setting themselves up for disappointment. But how do I explain that without shitting on the game they’re having a fun time playing with their friends? It feels a bit jerky to say: “Well, actually competitive kayaking makes more sense for contemporary American lifestyles and goals than baseball”.

photo of kayaker with helmet in rough water
Photo by Haitham.

And even beyond that, the baseball story starts to break down when I consider that many other people I talk to aren’t looking to progress on a path at all. Playing baseball with their friends for the weekly game is enough–they wouldn’t have gone to the retreat and they’re not looking to play in the minor leagues. They just want to blow off some steam. So what if ultimately the sport and people’s motivations seem a bit contradictory?

In my case, though, I knew I didn’t want to play baseball but I also knew I wanted to get strong. But strong in what? I’ll try to explain in the posts to come where I’ve landed and why. If you’re enjoying your weekly baseball game and it’s leading to the effects you want without nagging doubts or continued existential angst, don’t let me sway you. If you’ve enjoyed the benefits of baseball and are looking to go further, but feel ambivalent about the sport itself, then you may be interested to read more about being a degenerate.