What I’ve Learned As A Baseball Writer

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

To the best of my recollection, the 20th anniversary of the first baseball game I ever watched is coming up next Friday. I know it was either 1995 or 1996 because I remembered watching it in at my parents’ house in Toledo and we didn’t move there until the summer of 1994 and I distinctly remember Alan Trammell being in the lineup, and he retired after the 1996 season. I remember it being during Spring Break and I remember it was against the Twins in Minnesota, so Opening Day 1996 seems like the winner.

This will also be, as my domain subscription notice just reminded me, my fourth Opening Day writing about baseball. Twenty years as a fan. Ten years since I first saw my team play for something. Three and a half years since I decided to start this site.

One thing I’ve learned in those years is that the human brain is really good at getting used to things. It’s not always good at making decisions, regulating emotions, or remembering the location of keys, but its ability to absorb a set of circumstances as normal is remarkable. I’m not really afraid of heights, but every time I ride in an airplane I’m constantly amazed that everyone on board isn’t running around screaming in terror because we’re 35,000 feet about the ground. Honestly, we’re all just cool with flying? 

Things that at one point seemed incredible quickly become routine and mundane. No matter how rewarding the stimulus, experiencing it enough dulls your sensitivity to it. This is true in serious matters like drug addiction, but also more casual vices such as watching your team win baseball games.

I spent the first ten years of my baseball life cheering for bad baseball teams. The idea of experiencing a winning season was exotic and exciting. When it arrived, it was like getting a milkshake IV or having a litter of puppies climb on me. The Ordonez home run to win the pennant was the highest possible high.

But slowly, success became the new normal. We began to expect it. The Tigers have had six more winning seasons since, including four division titles and four playoff series wins. Good players started to see Detroit as a destination and the owner became willing to spare no expense to win. Ten years ago, going to the World Series was the literally the most exciting thing I could imagine. Now I think it might be kinda fun to go back.

I think this applies pretty universally. The idea that people would read things I wrote about baseball on the internet sounded awfully silly when I started the site back in 2012. It was honestly just supposed to be a personal distraction. The idea that people would hire me to write for sites I admired and revered didn’t really cross my mind. To be honest, I used to get stupidly excited when someone moderately important retweeted something I wrote or mentioned they liked it. I’m not a hero worship kind of person, but any attention from anyone established at that point was genuinely really cool.

But all of a sudden I got offers to join Beyond The Box Score and Gammons Daily, then FanGraphs, The Hardball Times, and TigsTown and somehow I was being treated like a peer. I don’t say this to brag about my success, but to illustrate that somewhere along the line “Hey Becky wake up this famous person shared my article with their followers!” became “Um, honey I’ve actually been the managing editor at Beyond the Box Score for like eight months, did I not mention that?” It’s not just the abstract success of a baseball team that became commonplace, it’s things that are very personal as well.

I wish I could time travel to 2012 and tell my former self that 2016 Neil would be kind of annoyed about how long it was taking to finish his most recent article at FanGraphs. Or imagine telling 2005 Neil that 2015 Neil was at peace with the idea that the Tigers might spend a couple years rebuilding.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately as so many of the people I’ve come to know in the online baseball writing community are getting what old show biz folks would call their “big breaks.” There are people I came up with working full time for MLB teams or getting tons of exposure at some of the biggest sites in the industry. Heck, there are people I hired while running BTBS who are breaking out as we speak.

And I’m watching them express their unbridled joy, a similar joy I watched Royals fans and Mets fans and Blue Jays fans experience over the last couple of years. And I’m seeing them feel those highs when Congrats Twitter lights up or their team finally has that deep October run. And I can spot the people who are going to have those moments themselves before long.

A few years ago, I’d have been jealous watching other people celebrate championships or get cool new jobs that I didn’t have, but once you’ve had some success, it’s a lot easier to view success as something that’s routine and normal. I probably would have been fuming watching the Royals celebrate if the Tigers hadn’t had plenty of success during this last decade and I’d be much more interested in self-promotion and click chasing if I hadn’t already felt the rush of being asked to write for a site you’ve always loved.

It’s a weird bit of wisdom and it makes you want to assure people that their moment is coming and that after a while it won’t really be that novel. Few things really live up to the insane expectations you create for them. There’s a tendency for people to hear that and feel sad that joy is fleeting, but I’m comforted by it.

I’m totally okay with things just being okay. I’ve learned that I like stability and that I don’t need the Tigers to provide thrilling moment after thrilling moment. I’m perfectly happy with the rhythm of 162 nine inning contests every year, win or lose.

This mindset isn’t for everyone, but it’s one that works for me. After twenty years as a fan and four as a writer, I love the game just as much as ever. Maybe more. But I care far less about the outcomes. I want to watch interesting baseball, but interesting baseball no longer means games in which everything hangs in the balance.

I’m very happy for my friends and colleagues who are experiencing their personal and professional joys and have no intention of raining on any parades, I just felt compelled to acknowledge that these great moments are going to feel ordinary soon. They’ll blend into the rhythm of our lives.

I guess what I’m trying to say is try not to lose sight of the mundane pleasures of life while desperately searching for the promise land because the promise land is going to be a mundane pleasure before too long because your stupid brain is going to get used to it. Enjoy the moments when they come, but don’t let them be the only things that keep you going.

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