A Harmless Addiction?

A

In this season, my evenings have a predictable shape. Dinner is over. I’ve scrubbed the pots, rinsed and deposited the dishes in the dishwasher, packed up the leftovers and wiped down the counters, my responsibilities in return for all the work Rosellen has put into preparing a consistently excellent dinner. Then I move to the television room to attempt to finish the day’s newspapers, hoping to dispose of them in short order so I can get back to the book I’m currently making my way through, ever so slowly.

But it’s baseball playoff season, so I turn on the TV to be able to track whichever of the day’s games is on at that hour. Early in the playoffs there may be as many as four games stretching all the way from 1PM to midnight. My intention is to have the game on only as background so I can glance up from time to time to check the score. That works for games between teams in which I have little emotional investment or for games which have devolved into blowouts.

The truth is, though, that on most nights what’s happening on the screen begins to draw me away from my reading, which is soon relegated to the short stretches during inning commercial breaks. By the end of the evening, the hoped-for book reading time has not materialized and I’m even forced to carry some of the as-yet unread newspaper sections to bed where I will either finally finish them or deposit them on the growing pile of possible future reading.

I’m not sure how to distinguish between an addiction and a habit. I’ve written before about the outsize role that baseball has played in my life since around the age of 7. We didn’t own a TV until I was about 12, so I wasn’t watching my beloved Dodgers. Instead, I was listening to them inside on our kitchen radio or outside on the portable radio my parents had bought to get me some fresh air. I’ve written about some of this before, but this is the time of year when I find myself once again reflecting on my 75 years of fandom and the ways in which it has enriched my life while also sapping precious time during which I could have been engaging in loftier pursuits. I’m not alone in indulging this time-consuming addiction/habit. Countless writers, academics and public intellectuals have confessed to similar inclinations. If they happen to have missed a key game, they’ll be hitting the sports section of their local paper first thing in the morning before they move on to news of Afghanistan, inflation or January 6th. I take heart in the fact that this indulgence has not deterred them from winning Nobel Prizes or National Book Awards, so I can’t blame my modest output on my love for baseball. Take my dear son-in-law Peter Cole, a MacArthur genius grant winner who, thanks to the time difference between here and Jerusalem, tunes in to his beloved Mets in the middle of the night. Hasn’t slowed his intellectual output one bit.

I won’t go over the abrupt way in which the Dodgers divorced me and fled to LA for what has turned into a 64-year long fling. As I write this, the Dodgers are about to face a win-or-go-home game against the Giants (update: they won and moved on to the next round – the League Championship Series) and I find myself, to my wife’s amazement, without any emotional investment in the outcome. The rivalry does still stir childhood memories because my father and I were politely at odds – he with the Giants and I with the Dodgers. When they were both still playing in New York, we often went to games at Ebbet’s Field or the Polo Grounds and commiserated with each other when the “wrong” team won. Baseball was the bedrock of our relationship when there was so much about my life that he did not understand and could not connect with.

Although my loyalties to the Dodgers are no more, they have been replaced by a cluster of others, based on our numerous moves around the country. In this year’s playoffs my heart is with the Red Sox, the Astros and the White Sox. The first two will be facing each other in the League championship round, which I suppose could be seen as a conflict for me, but in truth it means that I will be happy with whoever wins. I will be hoping for as long a series as possible, one in which neither team is embarrassed by the outcome. I know that many fans are still down on the Astros because of their shameful involvement in the signal stealing scandal of several years ago, but they are a really exciting team to watch, and I have waved my censer and granted them absolution. The White Sox have already been eliminated and I beg forgiveness from my South Side neighbors when I confess that my Chicago loyalties lie with the now hapless Cubs, so I did not shed rivers of tears when the Astros eliminated the White Sox.

While my addiction was once exclusively to baseball, over the decades it has spread to other sports which have, sadly, displaced baseball in many American hearts. I am also drawn away from more serious business by basketball and football which make up in speed and moment- to- moment excitement for what they lack in the subtlety and finesse I find in baseball.

I am fortunate to be married to a woman who doesn’t disparage me and shame me for my addictions. In fact, she often joins me in my baseball immersions which she can follow with the trained eye of a girl with two older brothers. Football calls for some compromises on her part. She has chosen to be intentionally less knowledgeable about it because of its violent nature, but she tolerates the time I invest in it.

So, as participants in AA meetings introduce themselves, “My name is Marvin and I’m an addict.” That’s not likely to change. In fact, with greater flexibility in how I spend my time, these tendencies may intensify. My father spent a good portion of his later years watching the unpredictable exploits of the Mets. It’s a harmless addiction, one that affects others much less than most serious addictions. So, I hope, Dear Reader, that you won’t think less of me for it. I will get to the Proust as well, albeit a little more slowly.

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Marv Hoffman

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