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Baseball, according to those who favor the game, is the sport most like life. This is one of those platitudes that typically goes unchallenged, provided you’re in a room filled with other baseball nuts. Some lives are undoubtedly more like an early-October 49er’s game, complete with being assaulted by a neanderthal fan in a Frank Gore jersey while you wait for a stall in the men’s room. But that’s another matter. Let’s assume for a moment that baseball is life. It’s seasonal and long, with pitchers and catchers reporting for spring training in February and the World Series occasionally extending into November. It’s both forgiving and unforgiving; some errors lead to disaster while others go all but unnoticed. It challenges; a batter who succeeds in three of ten attempts is said to be exceptional. It evolves slowly and is reluctant to accept change. It tends to romanticize its past; cheaters of yesterday are revered as scrappy characters who had what it took, while those today are merely corrupt and a reflection of an ugly, modern era. It’s both pastoral and citified with parks offering lush, green fields placed in the center of urban life. And it’s uniquely American .. you’d be hard pressed to find a Parisian making baseball-life analogies.

So here I sit, in the middle of my life, making awkward transitions and reaching futilely for inspiration, with baseball always there. I’m in between big games today, having experienced an exceptional run over the past five years. My team – the San Francisco Giants – has reached the playoffs three times and claimed two World Series titles since the 2010 season. They’ve been stellar thus far this post season, traveling to Pittsburgh to win a one-game elimination wildcard match, and then to Washington D.C. where they took two in a row from the Nationals on their home field. And yet I can only focus on yesterday’s game — a loss at home in San Francisco that turned bad on an errant throw by their pitching ace, Madison Bumgarner. Baseball, it would seem, is a lot like my life: an embarrassment of riches bestowed upon one who can only ever round third base with a worried look on his face.

I probably got all the baseball I needed on Saturday when the Giants took the second of the two aforementioned wins in the nation’s capital. It was a cold night in D.C. and the ballgame stretched out over six-plus hours and eighteen innings. I’d watched all of the two previous games but something about this one felt off kilter to me. Perhaps it was the middle eastern fare I’d ordered for delivery around the fourth inning; a salty overload of doughy pita, couscous, and lentil soup. I was thirsty and uncomfortable and my team, down by a single run, wasn’t doing much on offense. So I retreated to the bedroom and napped for a bit, waking to a buzzing phone and friend’s text message: “Crazy game.” I checked up on things and saw that it was a tie, heading to extra innings. So I set out to take a walk, figuring that I’d keep going until the match was resolved. I walked and walked and walked, all the while staring at the red, green and blue dots of Major League Baseball’s “Gameday” application on my cell phone. (Red for balls, green for strikes, and blue for balls in play.) By the seventeenth I’d covered six miles of Brooklyn pavement and an equal number of shut-out innings from Giant’s reliever Yusmeiro Petit. My feet were tired and much as I was still too nervous to watch, I went inside. Then, in the top of the eighteenth, Brandon Belt happened.

The truth is, baseball isn’t life. Life is messy and incomplete and taking place instantaneously in a million different forms. Life can include Brandon Belt’s home run, but it isn’t defined by it. People pay good money to take yoga classes or learn to meditate in order to achieve mindfulness. Mindfulness, according to Wikipedia, is “a term derived from the Pali-term ‘sati‘, which is an essential element of Buddhist practice, including vippasana, satipathhana, and anapanasati.” I’m not sure what any of that is, although I think I may have eaten some of the latter once, before a meal at an Italian restaurant. What it all boils down to is this idea of being present; of living in the present. If one can accept the present moment and be at peace with it, then he can be free from the pain of past regret and future worry. It’s said to be an effective technique for relieving anxiety and aiding in the prevention of drug and depression relapse.

I’m not sure where I am on this scale of Nirvanic aspiration. I’ve probably considered it more than some and done far less in reaching for it than many others. Sometimes, in the middle of a long run or immediately thereafter, it can seem within my grasp. But such moments are elusive. The moments on either side of Brandon Belt’s home run swing in the top of the eighteenth inning Saturday night — those interminable moments that stretch out and on forever — those are the ones I still have trouble with. But in that moment, at the risk of sounding sickeningly pretentious, I may have caught glimpse of the indefinable. It didn’t last long and peaked with a graceful, looped swing and bat discarded in relieved possibility of the game’s greatest promise: coming home. I can’t be certain, but for those seconds that the baseball traveled, I think I was more or less present .. just as I am now, of course, but somehow better able to appreciate it. And then he was back in the dugout basking in the congratulations of his teammates, likely already thinking about fielding first base in the bottom half of the inning, about getting three more outs. Three days later, following a tough game three loss, the home run is all but a distant memory. The task of winning one more game is still at hand. Life goes on.

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