Baseball, sex, math and OCD

Daisy designI’ve never been much of  a baseball fan, perhaps owing to my Ferdinand-like experiences out in right field as a child, yet as we make our way into the classic fall days of the pennant race it seemed like a good time to talk baseball.

At some sort of strange mystical level, I am intrigued that the American pastime is founded on the shapes of the diamond (a symbol of the individual self) and the sphere (a symbol of the totality of the individual and collective SELF).  I grew up in Chicago, on the north side, and the Cubs might also account for my lack of enthusiasm about baseball (despite the romance of the Cubs, let’s face it, they simply never win, and that’s easier to deal with as a grown-up—and even then, not for all grown-ups—than it was as a kid).  To cap things off, my first game down at Wrigley Field went to twenty-seven innings (some would call that a classic game, for me that was a whole lot of nothing happening for a very long time).

Nonetheless, whether you love baseball or don’t love it, it’s an interesting window into the American psyche, if not the human psyche.  Firstly, like all sports, it represents a ritualized way of having a dialectic of opposites—two opposing teams taking turns at a highly stylized dance of trying to score and trying to stop the other from scoring.  The poetic aspect is extended to the “bull-pen” (evoking the lyrical language of bullfights, sacrifice and matadors, only further underscored by tight pants and the stance of the pitcher on the mound).  

For those who are math-minded, it seems interesting that baseball employs basic math (counting runs), statistics (RBIs, batting averages, obscure valuations of players, etc.), geometry (diamonds, pentagram home plate, squares for bases, circles for the mound, sphere for the ball and the radius of the stadium wall, and then the street beyond the stands—event horizons for home runs as acts of definitive completion), and baseball even touches upon calculus with the infinitely expanding parabola (or at least 45 degree angle) of the first and third base lines representing an endless stratosphere into which a batter might send the ball.  And why nine innings… is that some sort of gestation reference?  Football and basketball are ruled by time, but baseball is timeless (even eternal, at least for me sometimes).  

Whether pregnancy relates to baseball or not, when I was a kid, baseball was still a central metaphor regarding sex, with clear correlates of first base being kissing, second being touching breasts, third being touching genitals and home run, or “scoring” meaning intercourse.  There is no oral sex in baseball which underscores its provincial and ultimately conservative nature (and perhaps the American outrage at scandals of cheating, betting and steroids—those just aren’t how All-Americans see themselves as Americans).  The ritual use of a bat, likewise, seems to border on the shamanic—and like the rainmaker and the Pinata whacker, the batter is tasked with doing magic if he or she can.

Baseball is an arena for social change, a forum on what the people think and a modern day coliseum where the formerly obscure and unlikely can become stars.  Baseball has been a place where racial barriers have been put up, and then broken down, where rags to riches stories inspire kids everywhere and where America has exported something (the game itself) that has not dominated or controlled anyone or bothered to make us more rich and more powerful.  It simply looked fun and other people imitated and took it up as a game (although America is not so good at truly picking up what the rest of the world likes to watch and play, namely “football” by which the rest of the world means “soccer”).

Finally, I have noticed that Baseball is a great game for both Asperger’s and especially ODC (obsessive compulsive disorder).  The Asperger kid loves rules and fairness, and baseball is quite precise about the rules, with umpires watching with eagle-eyes to call balls fair or foul, runners safe or out.  But for OCD, no sport beats baseball—a sport where obsession for detail and compulsive practice elevates those with talent, heart and unstoppable obsession to stardom.  Many an OCD sufferer engages in habits like counting (as a defense against anxiety) and baseball is all about counting (three strikes, four balls, etc.).  Some OCD folks like to do what’s called “evening up” (i.e. if you touch the right side of the door frame, you must also touch the left side) and in baseball, you have to even up—touching base or being called out. Baseball is also a big game of tag where you have license to tag or touch others, another trait I’ve seen OCD and also Tourettes kids sometimes feel strongly compelled to do.  Many an OCD sufferer engages in rituals (i.e. compulsive hand-washing) but in baseball, such exact and compulsive ritual is fully accepted as a batting routine that one doesn’t need to hide.  To stand in front of thousands of fans, with millions more watching on TV, and get to freely just be OCD—whether it be X amounts of taps on the plate with one’s bat, getting the dirt off the cleats in just the exact way, adjusting one’s “equipment,” spitting, waggling, check-swinging… it’s quite wonderful and individual and expressive and luck-inviting and utterly human… and I’m starting to like baseball just a little bit more than I used to just from writing and thinking about it.  Perhaps like art, love, mysticism and Seinfeld baseball is about nothing and  it’s about everything.

T-ballAfter all, if Oscar Wilde said that if we haven’t seen the beauty in something, we have yet to actually see that thing, then perhaps I will challenge myself once again to look more deeply, or at least less indifferently, into baseball.  In the meantime, let’s dedicate today to greater acceptance of people who really love baseball, and people who don’t really love baseball, and most of all compassionate, non-judging recognition for kids and adults with OCD.  Given that they don’t all get to stand up and be OCD in a baseball stadium, to those who suffer, feel inadequate or ashamed about their OCD, let’s send them love and strive to see their beauty just as they are, and let’s do it with peanuts and Cracker-Jack in the service of all our collective children.

Namaste, Bruce


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2 Responses to “Baseball, sex, math and OCD”

  1. Mwa Says:

    I loved that post! I obviously should have played baseball as a kid, but I was too busy avoiding the cracks in the pavement. You must be a blast to have around at a baseball game. 😉

  2. krk Says:

    You make baseball sound goood.
    Take me out to the game.

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