“The point of this entire enterprise is to entertain us with baseball games. The point of it is not to decide who is the best team. The illusion that that is what we’re doing has long been a powerful draw to sports. But it is ultimately not the point. There is no scenario where the universe will care or remember who the best team was out of this collection of collections. It only matters inasmuch as we create this illusion that it matters.
If you lose even the illusion, then it becomes problematic. But the point is not to have the illusion: the point is to entertain people and make them forget that we are all dying right in front of each other — that this is just this horrible, rotten slog to rigor mortis, that we are going to lose everybody we know, that we are going to lose everything we have and the only way to distract ourselves is by separating our day into distractions.” – Sam Miller, Effectively Wild (ep. 551)
This is one of my favorite quotes. I can admit I’m not the best-read person, try as I might to get better, but for whatever reason, this little bit from countless hours of baseball podcasting has stuck with me. Since I first heard it, I don’t think there has been a baseball game I’ve seen where I haven’t had this soliloquy pass through my mind. There’s something about pointing out the seeming banality of life and all the inconsequential investments people make in it that I find a strange sense of comfort and amusement in. I don’t find life as empty or pointless as Sam’s impromptu sermon might suggest – judging by the tone he delivered it in, I doubt he does either.
However, Sam is right in his assessment of the game of baseball. It’s something that does distract us from our lives, our pains, and all the stuff we’d rather not think about. It’s a game that plays to our primal instincts of competition – a game that masks itself as a bastardized Darwinian experiment, trying to identify which team is most fit to be the champion.
I would further affirm that baseball, and life itself, matters only as much as we let it matter. For many people, baseball does matter. They’ve let it matter. It’s that aforementioned perfect distraction. Maybe that’s part of the beauty of the game – that we have created such an amazing thing that we can’t help but want to hand over our time, energy, and even livelihoods to be a part of it. It’s so tantalizing. Maybe that’s an ugly thing too. All that time and energy and talent could probably be put to more meaningful causes in terms of utility.
It’s a bit of a paradox. Can something that doesn’t really matter, well, matter? It probably helps me sleep at night to think so. As someone whose path in life is still very unclear, I’d like to think that regardless of what pursuits I commit myself to, some sense of meaning will follow. Wanting to matter or be a part of something that does seems like a universal desire.
For Sam, his stop is approaching. His departing from the wonderful distraction, as he might put it, is firmly in sight. While I’m sad he’s stepping off and continuing on elsewhere, I am at the same time thankful the podcast will chug along with Ben Lindberg still strapped in and Jeff Sullivan coming in for Sam. I have great respect for Sam, Ben, and this podcast. I’ve found it to have great meaning to me in my life and for me that’s worth sharing. For me, what they’ve created mattered.
In times of joy, the podcast was there, eagerly awaiting its chance to add to my felicity through its whit and whimsy. When faced with the morbid side of life and mourning the loss of close loved ones, Sam and Ben were there to comfort with their evergreen banter. Maybe more than anything else, they served as a constant in times of uncertainty.
I’ve not been on this earth long enough to say where coming out ranks in terms of possible uncertain events one could have in his life, but for me, it seemed as daunting as anything could. I’m grateful to have had something I could find such enjoyment – such meaning – in during that period of my life. But then I take this experience, and I remember the last part of Sam’s great lecture:
But the point is not to have the illusion: the point is to entertain people and make them forget that we are all dying right in front of each other — that this is just this horrible, rotten slog to rigor mortis, that we are going to lose everybody we know, that we are going to lose everything we have and the only way to distract ourselves is by separating our day into distractions.
Perhaps it was all just one big illusion, a form of escapism. A distraction that only mattered because I let it matter.
But what if it all wasn’t? The logical part of me has already relegated baseball to being a distraction. Why shouldn’t a podcast about baseball just be an extension of that distraction?
I just don’t think that’s what the podcast has been for me. It didn’t make me forget about all the worst things in my life, it reminded me of all the good things and even added to them.
I hope when Sam looks back on his time with Effectively Wild he finds that it mattered and that it wasn’t just a big distraction – something that only served to entertain. In seeing how much a silly baseball podcast could matter to me through the good, bad, and uncertain, it made me want to be more diligent in my interactions and interests.
Being able to challenge others to be better, more intentional people seems like something that has inherent meaning. I’ve come to find that the pursuit of meaning can often be found in the people we impact. If two guys I’ve never met can so often remind me about what I love, how much can I do that with people I know in my life?
I don’t want to separate my day into distractions, I want to separate it into reminders – for me and others – of all the beauty that’s still out there in this world and in each other. For me, Effectively Wild hasn’t been a daily distraction. It’s been a daily reminder.