facial difference · hearing · Medical/Dental · Mental Health · Sports

Red Sox Baseball Saved Me In 2017

My mind tells me everything has to be perfect all the time. I’m trying to stop listening. One area where I have had little success has been with my writing. I write for someone for pay, so that stuff actually, truly has to be perfect. Everything else, not so much…I write for me, for my journal, and I think before I even pick up the journal, “this has to be a perfect entry.”  If I do not feel convinced that the entry will be perfect, I don’t write it. I set the book aside and watch another episode of Billions, my recent obsession. No one reads my journals, but me, but that’s what I think and what I do because of the lies my brain tells me. In addition, this runs counter to the advice I give people on writing. I tell them: just write. Sit down for 10 minutes and write about anything, Everything is fair game, just get it on the page.  

I guess I need to start taking my own advice. I’m not practicing what I preach. My journal and this blog must be a space for practice. I have been working on the entry that appears below for probably five months (on and off) in the hope of pitching it to a website. No one will pay me for this one. It is old news, based on a bunch of experiences around the 2017 baseball season. This is the perfect first candidate for the “get-over-yourself-and-publish-it” piece. So here it goes…

Enjoy the mess, for that is where all the growth happens. 

N.B. In the interest of transparency, I edited this some more before I published it. Guess, I just can’t get over myself. 

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I didn’t realize baseball saved me until I said it out loud at the end of the Red Sox 2017 season sitting in my office, talking to a colleague with tears streaming down my face.  In that moment the year’s experiences of struggle and comfort from the game came crashing together. I was moved.

My sanity slowly began to slip after the baseball season ended. I thought I could muster through, use all the tricks in my bag, talk to people, ask for help, and keep myself busy with work. There was not enough deep breathing and items on my to-do list to stop the corrosion of peace.
Baseball kept me going during a tough year filled with ever worsening hearing loss and tinnitus that soon turned into face pain, facial spasms, and more. My body was unhappy about something, but it was not clear to the doctors whether it was my brain, my jaw, or my ear.  Why was this happening? Why was it not getting better despite all the efforts and appointments? Would it ever stop? These questions plagued me each and every day.

Baseball served as a distraction from these anxiety-provoking queries. Amid piercing, unescapable high-pitched tinnitus, hearing loss, and ever increasing pain, baseball was there. Baseball was the constant I needed to find some inner peace with the all-out assault on my nervous and auditory systems.

When I could no longer deal with my condition, after an 8-hour day sandwiched between an hour plus commute on either side, I raced upstairs to my condo, grabbed the remote, and turned on the game. During the day, I listened to sports talk radio or the occasional day game. Watching and listening to baseball was a daily, mindfulness practice that I could help me escape the many and varied pains. These moments of reprieve were wondrous in and of themselves, but it was not enough. I needed to be there. It was not until I went to the games, physically immersing myself in all aspects of the game did even more relief come my way. I treated these visits to Fenway Park, McCoy Park, and LaLacheur Park, and Hadlock Field like yogis would a trip to an ashram. I opened my five senses up to all that baseball offers, from the small moments like the smell of fresh cut grass, kids screaming “Let’s go Paw Sox, let’s go!” and the big ones, like  watching Jackie Bradley Jr. make one of his acrobatic catches in Fenway’s tricky centerfield.

While baseball would not cure me, it could calm my response to my broken body and anxious thoughts. I planned trips to attend minor league games in Pawtucket and Lowell.  Later, a former colleague and I purchased tickets for a game at Fenway Park at the end of July. Planning days at these parks gave me something to look forward to while I continued to fight for answers to the mounting questions my body kept asking. The games would take my mind off the inescapable banshee shrieking in my ear.   

I noticed when I was physically at a ballpark that I was far more relaxed. I knew if I threw my attention into the game my quality of life for those nine innings would improve.  Out in the world, my anxiety skyrocketed as it became more and more unclear what was going on with my body. Yet, at the ballpark the central questions, “will it be like this for the rest of my life, and “will anything work” evaporated into the air, filled with the sweet scents of popcorn, sunscreen, grilled burgers and hot dogs.

On July 30, 2017, I attended a game at Fenway Park with a friend and former colleague. The first surprise, and ultimate distraction, was the celebration of the 2007 World Series team. I loved that Red Sox squad filled with MVP Mike Lowell, Kevin Youkilis, Coco Crisp, and manager Terry Francona. During the 10-year anniversary celebration of this World Series team, one after another walked out of the dugout to be honored on the field before the game. Even though our seats were in the right field grandstands, I felt like i was in the front row, because I was so thrilled to be there.  The game was great, despite the Red Sox loss 3-5 to the Kansas City Royals. Recently promoted third baseman, Rafael Devers, contributed offensively with one run, one RBI, and one hit during the game solidifying his place on the roster. Watching Jackie Bradley Jr. showcase his defensive prowess in center, I noted his small adjustments at the crack of the bat. His ability to read the ball and make the catch (every single time) is unparalleled. In that small, Fenway seat, the intensity of the tinnitus lowered into a manageable range. I nearly fell asleep I was so relaxed. I was hungry, another sensation I do not often experience.  I could not believe how great I felt. Sure, I still could not hear, but I could cope because Fenway Park wrapped itself around me like a warm blanket that day.

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My friend Uchenna from Nigeria and I in the Fenway Bleachers, Sept. 2017

I found myself in a similar situation in September when I attended another game at Fenway. Standing and then sitting in the bleachers I felt such peace. During that game, I saw the sun set in the distance, the sky filled in all its glory with the colors of Autumn, shades of gold, yellow, orange, and red, the perfect backdrop for Fenway Park. The Red Sox did much better, thumping the Oakland Athletics, 11-1. I’ll never forget how hard and how far Mookie Betts hit a home run in the fourth inning. It was a blast into left center field. Another unforgettable moment from that game was showing a Boston University International student how to eat a Fenway Frank. Introducing this all-American food item to someone new to United States while America’s National pastime played out before us was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Additionally, breaking the game down into its basic elements for someone forced me into a singular focus on the present, and away from the storm of thoughts about my uncooperative body.   Baseball is an exercise in mindfulness, or non-judgemental attention to a specific set of actions. Something Americans are doing less and less of these days. Perhaps, this is the most compelling argument against increasing the pace of play.

It was not just at Fenway Park where this magic happened. I experienced it at the minor league parks that I visited, too. The game is far more pure down on the farm, because managers, players, and baseball operations staff intentions are clear: to one day improve enough to play in the Majors, “the bigs.”  
In mid-August, I planned a last minute trip to Hadlock Field. I was up against the end of the Double-A, 2017 Portland Sea Dogs season. The last series of games was at home, starting with a doubleheader on Friday night. I had some business travel up in Maine, so I figured I would go after my work was complete. But could I really do it? Was my body up for it? The majority of our top farm prospects including third baseman Michael Chavis, Jeremy Barfield all seemed to be on the Portland roster. I knew I had to go see them because with the way things were going they could easily be traded during the winter. On a whim, I emailed my contact at the park to see if they would be willing to let me sit in the press box. It did not matter either way, but there can be a chill in the air in late August in Maine, so it might be nice to be inside for this one. It worked out, I was granted press credentials for the double header. I met such great people that night. I spoke with a MLB scout about our shared love of printed newspapers, and with another older gentleman who seemed to be managing the operations crew around the park, about his days as a student at Boston University. I shared my work with them. Baseball people are good people. My tinnitus was cutting through my skull like a high-pitched laser on the way up to Maine, but once the 3rd inning of the first game began I was surprised to discover that the intensity of the ringing had decreased.

After all the excitement about Chavis, I was not overly impressed with his performance at third base that night. As I often do, I saw more potential in the names that may not hit the press, like shortstop, Chad De La Guerra (went for an RBI that night) and left-fielder Danny Mars earning one hit and a run for the team.

After the trip to Portland the Red Sox continued to play through October into the first round of the American League Divisional Series. They met their match in the Houston Astros, the team that would take it all in the 2017 World Series.

During the post season, watching the game at home after work was just as helpful. Listening to the NESN commentators is usually soothing, so long as Jerry Remy is in the box. The perfect combination was Jerry Remy with Don Orsillo, but that shipped sailed long ago. I had to accept Jerry and Dave O’Brien. Sometimes, hearing their voices was music to my pained ears. Other nights, the volume was on very low, so I could focus my attention in on the pitching, fielding, and batting.

We talk a lot about distraction in my family. We always have with all the medical things I had going on. Baseball is more than a distraction, it is full immersive experience for me. I can slowly sink into a game, or when at the park, allow the space to wrap its arms around me. It is a balm for mind, body, and soul. Baseball may not solve all my problems, but it can take me away from them for a few hours. Improving the moments, and those to come, till the ninth inning and the final out.

 

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