By Daniel R. Epstein
The world ended three times in the summer I was 11 years old. My first private apocalypse occurred on July 29, 1994. The moving vans pulled into my driveway as the bus carried me away to summer camp. That afternoon, I rode a different bus to a new home in an unfamiliar town several miles away from my friends, school, and the life I had known.
The second was two weeks later on the morning of August 11. My parents drove me to the hospital at sunrise. Grownups in scrubs wheeled me into an operating room and put me to sleep. I woke up with a six-inch incision on my belly and no spleen or gall bladder, unable to speak and barely able to move.
I couldn’t watch the third end of the world. By the time Matt Nokes flew out against Darren Hall in the bottom of the 13th to end the Yankees-Blue Jays game that afternoon— and the 1994 season, as it turned out— I was still sedated in the surgical recovery room.
These cataclysms compounded each other’s severity. I spent the remainder of August bedridden and recovering from surgery, unable to go outside and make friends with the neighborhood kids beyond my new bedroom window, with no baseball to watch, read about, or obsess over. The calendar melted away— dooming what should have been the 70-43 Yankees’ first playoff appearance in my lifetime— until the season was eventually canceled.
Each time the world ended that summer, it was because I allowed it to end. I could not control my parents buying a new house, my internal organs’ threats of rupturing, or MLB labor relations, but I learned that I could control their effect on my life. As an 11-year-old boy, baseball and friends were all I cared about. Now that I’m an adult (as well as a teacher of 11-year-olds coincidentally), I recognize how typical this singlemindedness is for the age, but that summer I recognized it as a personal flaw that I needed to correct.
Anything that can be taken for granted can also be taken away. Families move all the time. People have surgery all the time. Baseball was supposed to be permanent and reliable. I would always love the game, but I had to find other interests to shield myself against another end of the world.
I bought Green Day, Offspring, and Nirvana albums on cassette. I delved deeper into football and basketball than baseball had ever allowed me to go before. When the school year commenced in September, I eventually made new friends. Being of that age, I started noticing girls soon thereafter. My headspace was no longer exclusively devoted to baseball. It never would be again.
I’m 38 now and another work stoppage has struck the sport I love. It’s different for many reasons, including all of the technical details and nuances of labor relations, collective bargaining, and corporate greed. It’s also December as opposed to August, which makes an enormous difference on the baseball calendar.
My world didn’t end this time because it has grown so much larger than MLB. I’ve learned that baseball will never love me back. I can take the parts of it that make me content and discard the rest, then fill that space with music, writing, and teaching. Baseball will always be part of my life, but I have too many other ways to occupy my time and my mind. No matter how long the lockout stretches on, it cannot destroy me again. I learned not to let it.
Daniel R. Epstein’s work can be found at Baseball Prospectus, Off the Bench Baseball, Bronx Pinstripes, and several other publications. He is also co-director of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, in case that wasn’t clear from the above article. Tweets @depstein1983.