Sometimes a strikeout means that the slugger’s girlfriend just ran off with the UPS driver. Sometimes a muffed ground ball means that the shortstop’s baby daughter has a pain in her head that won’t go away. And handicapping is for amateur golfers, not ballplayers. Pitchers don’t ease off on the cleanup hitter because of the lumps just discovered in his wife’s breast. Baseball is not life. It is a fiction, a metaphor. And a ballplayer is a man who agrees to uphold that metaphor as though lives were at stake.– David James Duncan
Nine months after the worst Michiana blizzard on record, I fittingly entered the world on the cusp of the World Series. Bremen’s modest population increased by .1% in a single week. In many regards, we were the last of a generation: the last to graduate high school without the internet, to attend a sporting event we did not play because it was where we gathered, or to call our parent’s landline from the parents of our friend’s landline… if we didn’t want to be grounded for arriving home later than expected. Our generation wasn’t unique in its transition through advancement — each has endured its own growing pains — these particular advancements involuntarily shaped our generation’s transition to adulthood.
Neither has baseball ceased to be baseball. Unlike other sport, baseball defines its entire history by context: “dead ball,” “pre-integration,” and “steroid” are all phrases used to understand rather than justify history. In hindsight, we clarify baseball through the bigots and cheaters and factor these conditions that built the narrative. We understand that Ruth and Gehrig never hit against Satchel Paige and agree that the Bash Brothers’ 1000+ home runs are not “Hall of Fame worthy” as those outside their era. Like the object of its allegory, these events occurred and are celebrated or devalued within their context.
Like any slice of society, we crave understanding. Student debt is our reality. We cannot dismiss it or ignore it, but debt must be understood in context. Boomers love to share their financial expertise on how they managed to stay in the black through careful spending and sound investments through early adulthood. Our reality is that we entered society indebted to our institutions without a predetermined plan for repayment. Ten years down the road, many of us realized that college (or at least our tract) may not have been the soundest decision after all… right around the time that millennials were being advised that their options were more varied than a traditional four-year education. It was too late for us — that’s our context. We’re not asking for a pass or government assistance, just to be understood that our context is not the same as yours. That’s baseball.
If we had it to do over again, I’m not sure that we would. Steroid users made millions by “getting an edge,” and those millions funded their retirement. X’ers may not have the dollars to live the American dream, but the collegiate experience allowed me to socially prepare for adulthood. Unlike the 20-somethings that I manage today, we were not scared to exit the home and couldn’t wait to gain independence. Again, it’s a context thing — if I were a 20-something, I would be scared to gain independence — I’m doing my best to understand that about my people and coach them towards success. That’s all we can ask. But I have college (and the 576 Papa John’s slices I consumed) to thank for that.
The beautiful thing about a new era is that nothing is etched. Tabula rasa in its truest form, those five babies born at Bremen Community lived five separate lives. We chose how to respond to our shared context: as mothers, fathers, laborers, prisoners, or liberators. Un-mendable environmental factors are subject to adaptation. My debt is more to Wegmans’ gain than for the student loan industry. Parents learn from their own context to expand opportunities for their children, the same as mine did for me. We should take pleasure that our limitations are only as low as our willingness to adapt and fight.
Baseball continues to wade through the seasons. Home runs and strikeouts are both on the climb, as society adapts to a growing disparity between the upper and lower class. Are we in position to judge and evaluate our active state?
Yes… so long as we acknowledge and understand that a different set of circumstances led us here. We needn’t revere history for it to provide an adequate framework for our next adaptation.