Baseball, Cross-country skiing and Life
I am not a baseball fan but I really tried to become one. I watched a couple of games. I tried to convince myself that I was really into it, but I finally had to admit that it was not my cup of tea. Why would I do that? Why would I bother making an effort to like something that I don’t really care about? Because I like a lot of the things that surrounds baseball, starting with the people who like baseball. From my personal experience, baseball fans have in common certain qualities that make them interesting. I’m talking of course about the ones that I had the privilege to know: my ex-colleagues Marc and Balou, my friend André and my brother-in-law Pierre. They are truly but not socially intellectuals. They are realistic without being pessimistic and they value friendship. It goes without saying that this is not by all means the conclusion of a social study that would apply to baseball fans at large. I’m sure that there are a lot of assholes and jerks out there who also love the game. I’m only talking about my personal experience.
My friend André talks about the Yankee or the Wrigley stadiums with the same enthusiasm and fervor that a Catholic nun would show when talking about the Sistine Chapel or Notre-Dame de Paris. There is a poetic and almost mystic dimension to baseball. You don’t have to be a baseball aficionado to appreciate the 18 ½ hour long documentary that Ken Burns made about baseball. It’s a human story full of emotions, told with old photos, letters, music and songs, that runs through the history of the United States just like the mighty Mississippi flows from the north to the south of the country.
I remember one of my students, a sensitive and intelligent Anglophone lawyer from New Brunswick with a great sense of humour, who made a presentation in French to show how baseball is connected to life. He started by pointing out the fact that in a baseball game a great deal of time can go by without anything important happening. All of a sudden, there’s a big cheer from the crowd. Everybody is standing. The batter hits the ball and runs to first base. The one that was on first base doesn’t make it to second base while the one that was on second base makes it home. After that, everything becomes quiet again. He went on to say that it’s often the same in life. You have the same job and live in the same city for years. You have the same life partner and friends, and your kids attend the same schools. Then, in the span of a couple of years of even months, you switch job, move to a new city, make new friends, maybe go through a divorce, your parents die or go to a nursing home, and your kids leave home to go to university or college. After that, just like in baseball, everything becomes quiet again…for a while.
Talking about the connection between baseball and life, it’s interesting to note that baseball enriched the English language with interesting words and expressions. For example, it’s important to touch base once in a while with your family and friends, or your clients and business partners. When you throw a curve ball at people, you really surprise them. What do a horny 17 year old teenager and a dirty minded pussy grabber 70 year old president have in common? They will most likely use the same baseball-inspired expression to tell you that they almost made it to third base with their last sexual partner.
A couple of months ago, on PBS, I saw an interview between Charlie Rose and Michael Lewis. In 2003, Michael Lewis published a book called “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game” about how the Oakland Athletics were able to put together a winning team despite a disadvantaged revenue situation by using an evidence-based, sabermetric approach. A few years after publishing that book, Lewis met two Israeli psychologists who told him, “Why don’t you apply the theories that were used for baseball to the decision making process in general.” He did, and wrote another book called “The Undoing Project.” In the interview, Charlie Rose was asking him how he could use what he had learned about the decision making process to explain Trump’s victory. The conversation was very interesting. I really liked Michael Lewis: a beautiful mind, the type of mind that is attracted to baseball.
Enough said about baseball, especially from a guy who isn’t even a fan. I know a lot more about cross-country skiing than baseball. Actually, I thought about writing this article while I was skiing. I put together my ideas and made a plan for my text as I was gliding on the snow. I asked myself the question, “What connections would I make between cross-country skiing and life?” I came up with two things.
Cross-country skiing involves making a lot of decisions.
First of all, I have to decide whether I’m going to use the classic technique or skate. After that, I have to decide where I’m going to go. There are over 200 km of trails in the Gatineau Park. Then I ask myself what wax I am going to put on my skis: if the wax is too hard for the temperature, I’m going to back slip; if it’s too soft, the snow is going to stick under my skis. You have to be able to read the snow. Just like everything else in life, to make those decisions, I rely on my past experiences and my instinct.
You can ski alone or with other people.
Skiing with a lot of people in a race and alone is a completely different experience. When I was younger, I was a member of a club. We would start training in the fall by running on the trails with our ski poles to build our endurance, doing intervals to increase our speed. We would also watch videos to improve our techniques and learn how to prepare our skis. During a race, we were surrounded by other skiers. We had to be careful and focused, always aware of our surrounding. After a race, we would sit together and talk about the race and the next race. This lasted only a few years.
Even if I enjoyed the experience, I realized that I was more happy skiing alone than with a bunch of people. On top of that, I'm not very competitive. Racing however taught me how to ski well and make the right choices regarding what I was talking about before. Above all, I appreciate the fact that cross-country skiing is an activity that can be done alone or with other people. Other activities don’t offer that possibility. You cannot play soccer, baseball or hockey by yourself. It’s the same with a career. In some jobs or professions, you are always alone; in other jobs or profession, you are never alone. Being an introvert, I needed something that allowed me to alternate between the two. My career as a language teacher allowed me to spend time alone creating material and preparing my classes; it also forced me to be in contact with other people and communicate.
I have a dream
When I was skiing and thinking about what I would write in this article, it crossed my mind that, in this part of the world, cross-country skiing didn’t have that aura of nostalgia and poetry that we can find in baseball. I started to dream that if I had the talent and the means, I could try to create one by making a movie about it. That movie would also be about friendship, forgiveness and hope. It would follow four friends coming from different walks of life, but who share their love for cross-country skiing and a fascination for the northern lights, throughout the important moments of their lives. I would show snow falling slowly on the trees, a winter night full of stars, and of course, the nortern lights. The dialogues would be minimal but meaningful. I would dedicate that movie to my uncle Hervé who skied until he was over eighty years old.
 Whatever that means.