RtO: A Thought Experiment

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Each week, author and poet Y.S. Fing looks at the state of baseball, the movements of the game, the ebb and flow and soul of America’s pastime in Roaming the Outfield. This week: “A Thought Experiment”

What if everybody decided they would no longer distinguish between pain and pleasure? What if these sensations weren’t polar opposites, repulsive and attractive? What if pain and pleasure were equal?

This seemingly contradictory state of being was an important subject to each of three more of my favorite thinkers and writers: Siddhartha, Nietzsche, and Foucault. It may seem ridiculous to even mention them in a sports blog. Except that they all spoke quite freely about the sensory and intellectual experiences available to those who were truly free in their being, their becoming, who had control over themselves as they progressed in a fettered life. Each encouraged individuals (without discrimination) to make the best of themselves. They encouraged people on a path to personal enlightenment and freedom, even though the goal is difficult to attain.

This is the level I go to with baseball, being set free. The game, the infinitude of its progressions, is so compelling that chess can’t beat it for drama. It’s like three-dimensional chess with conscious players with free will and psychological identifications which make any play the possibility of something never seen before.

As a fan of the game, I take interest in its ideal pleasures. Exhibit #1 – Werthquake. I was there. I was there with my sons, jumping up and down. An ideal like that can never be topped and can only be equaled by something greater, which I pray to be eye-witness to. But if I’m not, that’s ok too. I share my partial season ticket plan with a friend. He witnessed the 8-0 loss the day before. That’s just twisting fate.

Michel Foucault

Michel Foucault’s ideas on pain and pleasure influence the author’s life and love of baseball.

Siddhartha and Nietzsche and Foucault would all say, internalize the powerful awareness of your pain and your pleasure and see that they needn’t be antipodes. They may be an exact balance in an unbalanced world. They – and the suffering and joy implied – may be the key to enlightenment and peace and happiness in this world, difficult as they are. Let them both be instructive. Let them both be tempering. Let them both guide and warn us.

I see that in baseball, in being a Red Sox and Cubs fan for all my life. I see that I love the game as it is. I love being the fan of a team and I like teams that win. Prior to 2004, although occasional winners, my two favorite teams were never champions. During the first thirty-nine years of my life–including the Reds World Series in ’75 and the Mets in ’86–I bore that pain. And dear ones, we can’t forget 2003, for both the Cubs and the Red Sox! That was sublime pain, and it shouldn’t be forgotten when we indulge in nostalgia for 2004. Fans were not happy, until the Idiots got their cowboys up, etc.

The pleasure of the game though comes first, which is why I like to see my son play jv for his high school team (he rakes, by the way). The game is the pleasure, even if the jv team is not so great. It never fails, even when the pain is bitter, as in the Nationals collapse in the last game of the Cardinals series, Oct. 2012. The game is compelling, indifferent, cruel, labryinthine. I was there the night after Werthquake. My sons, luckily, stayed home. I hated the way last year ended. But I had no doubt that this year would be better.

Nationals Park Field

The dimensions of the game exceed the size of the field, as free will and existence collide.

More to the point, I didn’t care if the Nats lost more games this year. I figured they would. You can’t sneak up on people twice. Then, when the fans and the ownership and the coaches and managers need to, they can look inside themselves, see they are not the central hub, but a spoke on a wheel. They can see the pleasure and pain are equal. And that the wheel is moving in the right direction.

Acceptance of this ‘part in the whole’ philosophy is the knowledge that one person can’t do it all by him or herself. Siddhartha, Nietzsche and Foucault all recognized the existential futility of life, and therefore baseball, unless one bonds with others and aims to be productive in life, in pursuit of success. Such ideas are borne out in baseball, more than in any other modern sport. We are encouraged to let the suffering and struggle go and allow our experiences to be an equal spur to the pleasure which helps us to achieve our goals.


Y.S. Fing is an author and poet working out of Washington, DC. He roots for the Nationals when he isn’t composing beauty.