When to Have a Broken Heart

Everyone thinks Anna Karenina ends with the title character throwing herself under a train, finally destroyed by a passionate but ill-advised love affair.

Sometime in the middle of spring training, I was talking with a friend and he mentioned how the Reds were about to break his heart for six months (we are both Reds fans).

Nearly all baseball fans think this way. We know our teams are unlikely to win the World Series. If the team is coming off a disappointing playoff loss or several losing seasons, we may be especially pessimistic. We may feel that we know it isn’t going to happen.

I have arguments with people about literature. They want more happy endings. I want truth. You can have both, of course, but not so often as we all want. What we are more likely to get is some kind of mix. Someone ends up happy, but someone doesn’t. Maybe it ends happily, but not as happily as it might. Maybe you get a winning season, but no playoffs. Maybe you lose in the playoffs. Maybe your team is bad, but there’s a bright young rookie. Maybe your team wins it all. Which of these is a happy ending?

It’s easy to want baseball to be a torrid love affair. The thrilling rush of aWorld Series victory or the crushing defeat of a playoff loss can overwhelm anything that happened in the season. But that’s not really the kind of sport baseball is. So many people panic or celebrate so early that the season never really happens for them. They are like those ne’er-do-well fans in Major League, always on the wrong track. They exist in a fandom that is generated by their own imaginations and has little to do with what happens on the field. They may carry a “this team is terrible” narrative all the way to the World Series and if their team loses, they will declare victory. See! I told you they’d choke!

I see this kind of thing, and I wonder why these people still follow baseball. I wonder how they lost sight of what baseball is really about.

Everyone thinks Anna Karenina ends with the title character throwing herself under a train, finally destroyed by a passionate, but ill-advised love affair. But it doesn’t. The novel has two protagonists, and it is the other, Konstantin Levin who closes the book.  These are the final words we read in that epic story:

“I shall go on in the same way, losing my temper with Ivan the coachman, falling into angry discussions, expressing my opinions tactlessly; there will be still the same wall between the holy of holies of my soul and other people, even my wife; I shall still go on scolding her for my own terror, and being remorseful for it; I shall still be as unable to understand with my reason why I pray, and I shall still go on praying; but my life now, my whole life apart from anything that can happen to me, every minute of it is no more meaningless, as it was before, but it has the positive meaning of goodness, which I have the power to put into it.”

Those words have implications that go deeper than anything I’m discussing here, but one of the things they testify to is the character’s willingness to persevere. To go on and try to find joy in life even when he does not feel joyful. Indeed, as you can probably guess, his name means stability. This is not an accident.

Baseball is, more often than not, stable. It perseveres. It plods along. Others have pointed out many times that even bad teams win a lot of games.

I don’t know how my team will do this year. I have my opinions, but I don’t know. I won’t know until the season has been played. I do know that I’d rather be Konstantin than Anna. I’d rather ride (mostly) happily through the steady season than throw myself beneath a train because of my fears and anxieties. It is opening day, and I will take joy in that. I will worry about October in October, but my heart will not be broken unless they stop playing games from April to September.

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Comments

  1. Richard Baker said...

    This is a beautiful piece. I must have read the “Anna Karenina” close at one time–because it’s a book I say I’ve read–but it didn’t move me the way it did here, framed in terms of Opening Day. Next: frame the close of “Middlemarch” in baseball terms of “doing the little things right”?

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