“Are you excited for baseball season?”
It’s a totally natural question for people who know me to ask. After all, I’m the kind of person that typically marks time by baseball’s presence or lack thereof. Pitchers and catchers report day is usually as much of a personal holiday as Opening Day itself. Spring may be defined by meteorological or astronomical terms for most, but it’s defined by baseball’s calendar for me.
And for my dad.
Every time someone asks me about my baseball fandom origin story, the answer always begins with, “My dad.” He grew up in St. Louis. His dad had a chance to play for the Cardinals organization (he turned it down because life as a minor league first baseman wasn’t a reasonable way to support four kids). Photographic evidence shows a way-too-big Cardinals cap on my newborn head.
“I come by it honestly,” I always say.
And yes, over the years I developed a love for the game that was all my own. In fact, my dad and I even ended up on different sides of the new school vs old school debate sometimes! He, for example, was thrilled to hear that infield shifts were banned for 2023. I, however, grimaced at the thought.
But, he’s always been my baseball buddy. Baseball has always been a connection point in our relationship.
For the first time in my entire life, I can’t share Opening Day with my baseball buddy at all.
On February 1, my dad had a massive stroke. Even after two “successful” emergency brain surgeries, he still didn’t ever wake up. That was the worst week of my entire life. I still can’t even begin to wrap my head around it. My dad was there… and then gone. Just like that.
I’ve avoided baseball ever since.
So, am I excited for baseball? For the first time ever, no. Not because of the rule changes. Not because of a lingering letdown from the way last season ended. Not because of any concerns about the pitching staff or the hitting woes. Just because baseball without my dad feels impossible to enjoy.
Grief is the wildest ride. And it’s totally unpredictable. But this feeling today? Opening Day without him? Predictably awful.
Baseball was a connection point with my dad. One of many, sure. But a very tangible one. It was something we both loved independent of each other, but that we loved more when we could share it. Baseball felt better with him. Always.
Look, I know it’s just baseball. The game itself hasn’t changed because of his absence. Wins will still be wins, losses will still be losses. Fans will still cheer, still complain. Paul Goldschmidt’s season won’t be altered by me watching games alone. Adam Wainwright won’t ever know my dad isn’t cheering him on from the couch or the stands. Jordan Walker won’t succeed or fail because I can’t text my dad about his at bats. And what happens with the 2023 Cardinals won’t really shape my world in any way.
But shared experiences are part of what makes the human experience so meaningful. And for me, sharing baseball with my dad meant the world.
It’s been easier so far to just avoid baseball because the grief was too raw. But last week, in a moment of overwhelming grief, I asked my husband what felt like a silly question — I asked him if he would watch baseball with me this year… not as if we don’t already watch baseball together. But because I needed him to help me stay close to baseball even when it was hard. (Gem of a human that he is, he ever-so-sweetly agreed, of course.)
See, I realized that baseball is still a connection point to my dad. I can still say that he is my baseball fandom origin story. I can still watch the team and feel close to his memory. Celebrating this game can still feel like celebrating him, even though right now it hurts. And I don’t want to lose more of him by losing baseball, too.
So today, I’m wearing his ’80s style home white pullover jersey, sitting in his spot on the couch, and watching baseball. Without him. But, for him.
And yes, my heart is absolutely breaking.
I know I’m not the only one. For so many of us, baseball is that connection point with someone. It’s a family tradition. It’s a legacy. We all “come by it honestly.” And I’m sure there are more of you watching today with shattered hearts.
But instead of feeling utterly alone, just know that I feel your pain. I feel your sadness. I feel your desperate yearning to stay close. And if baseball can give us that, then let’s keep it closer than ever. Not because baseball changes the world, but because it allows us to stay connected to the people who mean the world to us.
Opening Day is special. This one is hard. But my dad loved this day. So I’m going to try to remember why I’ve always loved it, too.