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Baseball, as seen through an anxious mind

On Yankees fandom, anxiety, and the game we all love.

Los Angeles Angels v New York Yankees Photo by Rob Tringali/SportsChrome/Getty Images

I get panic attacks whenever I’m expected to enter a social situation. I’ve lived with general anxiety for as long as I can remember, but this added element of panic first sprung up when the pandemic started. Ontario was locked down for a rather long time and I didn’t see another person for almost three months. I was already not particularly great when it came to social interaction, but the lockdown only exacerbated my social anxiety even more. Now that things have begun to open up again, no matter what situation I find myself in — golfing with my father-in-law, dinner with my parents, weekly volleyball with my friends — my general anxiety will turn into a full-blown panic attack before I leave the house. For any of my friends or family members who might be reading this article, yes, that is why I’m almost always late for everything. Sorry.

I started writing at Pinstripe Alley as a way to further help manage my anxiety. We all know that 2021 was a frustrating season to watch, so when the call for writers came out sometime in July, I threw my hat in the ring partially to see that train wreck of a season through with some like-minded Yankees fans and partially to help work through my own anxieties about, well, everything. With my day-job set to return to the office in just under two weeks, which means I’ll be resuming my two-hour commute to-and-from the office for the first time in more than two years, I have been bursting at the seams with anxiety again. So, naturally, I did what I always do: I turned to the game we all love for help.

Baseball has always been one of my primary means of coping. Along with mint tea and emergency granola bars, this game has always helped quiet my mind down a bit. Stacey May Fowles, author of Baseball Life Advice, once said in an interview with CBC Radio that “the rhythm of baseball [is] quite soothing for anxious folks,” and I tend to agree. Though Stacey and I approach our anxiety from different dimensions, to an anxious mind like mine, there’s something warm and welcoming about the ebbs and flows of a baseball game that you don’t get with other sports. To a chaotic mind, there’s something pleasantly distracting about diving into endless data points and statistics. For all the lobbying for pace-of-play improvements — improvements which I think the game desperately needs, for what it’s worth — I relish the time I can spend winding down, if only for a few hours, with the rhythms of the game.

That’s not to say that everything about baseball is a zen experience for me. I still experience the same joys and heartbreaks as everyone else. I get put through the emotional ringer every time Aroldis Chapman takes the mound in a one-run game, I feel like I can run through a brick wall whenever I see Giancarlo Stanton break Statcast, and I waffle back-and-forth between thinking this is the worst Yankees team ever constructed and that this team is a World Series contender inning-by-inning, game-by-game, just like everyone else. The difference for me is that this emotional rollercoaster distracts me from what really matters, if only for a few hours.

Recently, however, there have been a few moments that made me question whether or not I even like this game anymore. On a macro level, the lockout and the owners’ ensuing PR spin was certainly one of the primary contributors to these doubts, as was an endlessly frustrating offseason and a characteristically uneven start to the season for the Yankees. On a micro level, my own personal bandwidth limitations have been clashing with the time I have to dedicate myself to studying the game and diving deep into statistical analyses like I used to, and there have been a few comments made on my own articles and on others’ that I let effect me more than I probably should have. That latter part is obviously my own fault because, well, this is the internet, and what good would it be if random anonymous people weren’t hurling insults and expletives at strangers? But, in short, what I’m trying to say is that my relationship to baseball that I once believed was virtually unbreakable has recently proven to be more tenuous than I imagined.

So, why is this on a Yankees blog? Well, for starters, I think it’s safe to say that tensions have been running relatively high amongst us Yankees fans. The team isn’t off to the start that we wanted them to get off to, but that’s true of every, like, 15 or 16 of the last 20 seasons or something like that. It’s especially bad this year because of another poor showing from the front office in the offseason, and it’s still well within the long shadow cast by the lengthy lockdown. Within this context, it’s certainly understandable that things can go off the rails a bit, especially with the lofty expectations we perpetually have for this team. As I discussed a couple weeks ago, the lifeless performances from this team have been hard to watch at times.

But, more than just that, I’m hoping that this little, well, whatever this is, can serve as a bit of a reminder, to myself especially, but also to others, that everyone is approaching this game, this team, and these discussions from a different context. We all come from different places, united by a love of this ridiculous game and this stupid franchise, and we all get something different out of it. For some, baseball is nothing more than simple entertainment, and for others, it’s nostalgia or a love. For me, it’s comfort and a sense of familiarity; a temporary distraction from my brain’s tendency to catastrophize everything it comes across. This is one of the primary reasons I still watch this game, even when it’s frustrating, even when things get personal, even when it hurts: because, deep down, we all just want to see the Yankees win.

And, if you never want to see an article like this again, don’t worry, I’ll try to stick to the on-field stuff that you can scream at me about from here on out.