Discover more from The Lewsletter
For the Love of the Game
A year later, how I rediscovered my passion for baseball
On September 25, 2021, Ranger Suárez did something I’d never seen before. In the penultimate home game of the year, he threw a Maddux: a complete-game shutout in under 100 pitches. I’ve had the incredible fortune to see hundreds of Major League Baseball games in my lifetime, yet I had never witnessed a Maddux in-person. As we finally exhaled after our breathless countdowns from 27 outs and 99 pitches, my wife said something that stuck with me long afterwards: She didn’t see me that excited about baseball very often anymore.
A year ago today, I launched The Lewsletter by publishing “How to Leave Your Dream Job.” If you’ve read anything I’ve written here, it’s probably that; it is far and away the most-read and -shared Substack post to date.1 My inaugural essay told the stories of two things I pursued so relentlessly that I suffered existential crises when I realized I didn’t want them anymore. The first was my childhood indiscriminate obsession with macaroni and cheese. The second was working in baseball analytics.
By the time I shared my story, it had been two months since I’d decided to change jobs. Even as I still couldn’t quite believe I had walked away from the career I’d always wanted —at that point I hadn’t yet grown accustomed to saying I used to work in baseball — I knew I had made the right choice. I had already experienced the different lifestyle that exists outside of sports: separation between my job and my hobbies, a schedule less beholden to benchmarks of the season calendar, and less pressure (however self-imposed) to keep my laptop within reach at all times.
Still, there was one big adjustment I had yet to figure out, and that I was intimidated to relearn: How to be a fan.
One of the best parts of my previous life was the access I had to watching baseball. Even if I wasn’t in the seats, my last desk was a five-second walk to a view of the field. I got to see games all over the country. There’s nothing like taking in a bullpen session from right behind the catcher or sidling up to the cage during batting practice and knowing you belong there. It was everything I’d dreamed of since I was a kid.
Having worked in various capacities for four MLB teams, those thrills never lost their luster. But years of intense focus on baseball as simultaneously a personal and a professional passion eventually left me lacking the capacity to fully enjoy them. At some point, even watching games off the clock started to feel like work. I was scared that I would never get that back.
The first weekend of last season, my father-in-law invited me to go to a game with him. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d gone to a baseball game with someone else providing the tickets. I sat. I watched. I cheered. I had a cheesesteak. As we talked about the game unfolding before us, no one expected me to offer professional-caliber analysis. I fulfilled a vow I’d made months earlier and got a beer. The seal was broken.
Yet I largely tuned out for a while after that. Over those first couple months, watching baseball wasn’t a nightly occurrence for me, and perhaps not even a weekly one. I was more likely to put on Seinfeld while I did dishes before bed than to catch the middle innings of a West Coast game. I skimmed the headlines of articles that I would once have read closely. I cleansed my Twitter feed of accounts I had followed only to make sure I didn’t miss something in the baseball world, because it no longer mattered if I did. It was hard to suppress the reflex that I both wanted and needed to consume baseball at all times, and it helped to be intentional about creating separation.
Then the year went on and I found myself drawn back in. I started tuning into random games on TV. I got back into writing about one of my favorite topics, the Hall of Fame selection process — particularly the delicate balance between embracing moral relativism and respecting the ever-evolving standards of fair play. Though my trips to the ballpark were much less frequent, they felt like special occasions. I tailgated a baseball game for the first time. I chatted with friends in the stands instead of refreshing Slack on my phone, and unlearned the instinct to run up to my desk between innings. My heart leapt out of my throat when Bryce Harper hit his iconic NLCS home run, and my eyes welled up with joy as I walked into my first World Series game.
I watched considerably less baseball in 2022 than I had in any season in the decade since I started working for MLB teams. It was still the most fun I’ve had as a baseball fan in years.
A year later, people still ask me if I’ve gotten the urge to come back to baseball: friends around the league making conversation, folks who related to my story as they ponder their own career paths, loved ones who still don’t quite understand why I left. The short answer is yes. I’ve scratched the itch in other ways — consulting, helping out with the SABR Analytics Conference (where I made my first industry connections in college), dipping my toe back into public sabermetric research — but it’s not the same as walking into a baseball stadium and calling it your office. The first pops of the catcher’s mitt in Spring Training don’t sound quite as crisp on TV.
The longer answer is that it’s hard to imagine going back anytime soon. I loved working in baseball for a long time, and wouldn’t trade the experiences I had or the relationships I built for anything. I’m also aware that returning to the industry would probably mean losing the work-life balance I’ve worked to restore. I know from experience that I struggle to compartmentalize when my personal interests overlap with my professional ones. With a year of hindsight, I would add another hesitation: I’ve learned that it’s easier to love baseball when it isn’t how you make a living.
I had the World Baseball Classic on in the background the last few nights while I wrote this essay. As I watched USA face off against Mexico, I was transported back to being at that same game ten years ago2 — a few weeks before I got my first job in a front office. I remember the contagious energy as the stadium filled up with cheers and songs. I remember the spectacle of seeing more baseball talent in one place than I ever had before (or have since). I remember looking at the friends I was sitting with and saying to each other: How cool is it that we're here! That’s what being a fan is all about. What a joy it’s been to find that feeling again.
Thanks for reading The Lewsletter! If you enjoyed reading this, subscribe for free to receive new posts as soon as they’re available.
It has more views than my subsequent 20 posts combined.
With the same result: A decisive upset win for underdog Mexico.