Rubin: Savoring the Importance of a “Ball Game”

Often times, sports can teach values and lessons, but it can also be the perfect way to disconnect from the world for a few hours.

By Dan Rubin

On Sunday night, I went to bed relatively early, gearing up for a tough week of work. I figured I’d get a head start on the night, given that the Boston Celtics had already lost Game 1 to Miami, and I’d spent most of the day outdoors with my girlfriend and her family. When I cycled one last time through Twitter, I saw a couple of tweets that President Barack Obama had a major announcement in store.

Instead of rolling over, I thought how odd it was that Mr. President was making an announcement at 10 PM on a Sunday; that’s hardly prime time for any announcement. So I instinctively ran down my stairs and told my dad what was going on. Wolf Blitzer said it dealt with “national security,” but I figured if it was a major attack against the United States, or if something was compromised, I would’ve heard about it before the President spoke.

As the next hour unfolded, the news spoke what we now know – that a group of Navy Seals ran an operation in Pakistan that ultimately led to the death and burial at sea of Osama Bin Laden. And almost immediately I thought back to a time nearly 10-years ago when I sat in my homeroom at Malden Catholic High School and heard the announcement from my headmaster, Brother Robert Green, CFX.  And I thought mostly about how weird the week was.

There were no sports on television. There was no football, no baseball, no nothing. It was the first time I can remember where I went home and didn’t do anything. Usually, I’d have ESPN in the background, some baseball or something to distract me from homework. And even as I type this, I have an NBA game in the background, at least to provide that noise. But for six days, there was nothing. There was only somber depression, candles, and prayers of thousands of lives stripped by zealots.

At the time, I didn’t realize it, but sports gripped my 15-year old life even greater. It was the first time I’d lost something innocent, and I would, in the coming weeks, grip the little things about the games that I still hold with me. When Jack Buck read his poem at Busch Stadium, it was there. And when Mike Piazza blasted his homerun on September 21, 2001 against the Atlanta Braves, I didn’t cry. I just closed my eyes, and I soaked in what was an awesome atmosphere in front of me.

Often times, ballparks or games can take our minds away from distractions or horrific events in the world.

As a 25-year old budding journalist, I tend to be extremely critical. I always know a way to do something better than someone (just ask me, I’ll tell you). But then again, that’s my job. What happened this weekend, and what I’ve waited to write about, is something greater. It’s a subject I sort of touched upon a couple of weeks ago when I discussed the San Francisco Giants fan who was beaten to a life-threatening coma outside Dodger Stadium. It’s something that I think we should all hang onto.

You see – sports have a way to connect to our lives, and that’s what makes them so great.  Even if it’s just for a couple of hours, we can escape the troubles of our lives and immerse ourselves in competition.  When we’re inside stadiums, when we’re inside arenas, we are a faceless, nameless mass. We are a chanting group of one, with no race, religion, social stature, or political class. We are merely fans, united behind a game.

The term “game” means more to me now than it did when I was 15. This weekend put that into perspective. The horrors of the world are real. War is ravaging nations across the world, people are oppressed and liberated, and terror roots in everyday life.

Japan is leveled by a tsunami, Alabama by a tornado. New Orleans is flooded and buried beneath raging waters, and volcanoes erupting in Iceland cripple travel to and from Europe.

And yet sports continue and we continue to cheer and care.

Games heal our wounds. It’s the little thing like a football player running out of a tunnel after defeating cancer almost at the exact same time I had family members defeat their own cancer. It’s about the basketball player who overcame stab wounds to become an MVP, and it’s about the cyclist who rallied from near death to win seven consecutive Tour de France titles. It’s also about the NASCAR driver who won a 500-mile race with AIDS tearing apart his body, and it’s about the hoops player who forced himself into retirement with HIV, only to live a full life at a time when it was a death sentence.

But they go beyond that. It’s the little kid who connects on his first ever base hit. It’s the girl scoring her first soccer goal, and the brother and sister constantly playing each other in a game of one-on-one in the driveway or backyard.  It’s the ability to sit in the stands, close your eyes, and soak up the smells and sounds. It’s the chance to go to a game before anyone gets there and sit in that empty park, with just your spirit and the ghosts around you. It’s the place where you can be at peace when the rest of the world, when the rest of our world isn’t.

I remembered all of that on Sunday night. It brought the last ten years full circle, as this mythical symbol of terror was brought to a crumbling and decisive halt. It’s what I thought about all day on Monday, especially when I drove home with the sunroof open and the clear skies overhead. And it’s what I think about now as I type this piece.

I remembered all of it, and it brought me peace.

The assault on Bin Laden didn’t get our forces out of Afghanistan or Iraq, and it didn’t lower gas prices at the pump. It didn’t lower or eliminate my credit card debt, and it didn’t change the fact that my car is making some funky rocking sound in the back. It didn’t stop that same car from rusting, and it didn’t stop my alarm from ringing in the morning. But the news flooded me with memories of my 15-year old self. It reminded me where I can access that escape and how I do it. It reminded me that a game, can be more than a game and it allowed me to savor the simple action of watching a ballgame, because I remember going home, putting on the television and seeing nothing but carnage.

Savor the moments where and when you can, and take in those sights and smells. Those games will become more than games, and maybe one day, in some form, we can all be at peace.

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