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Throw life a curveball

Sun., March 21, 2010, midnight

When it comes to dealing with some of life’s biggest issues, we can learn plenty from baseball fans

It might be that the national pastime doesn’t have much to teach us about life. Sure, there are plenty of books that try to get good wood on the poetry of the drag bunt, the metaphorical import of the 2-and-1 count, and the deep spiritual significance of the sac fly. But really. C’mon. It’s baseball. Who are we kidding? Baseball fans, however, now that’s a different matter. We can learn something from them.

Have you ever listened to serious baseball fans talk about an upcoming season? If you have, you know that religion is not the only sphere of life that requires one to believe in things unseen.

It would be too much to say that baseball fans exist in a state of grace during the period leading up to Opening Day. It’s really more like a gabby suspended animation.

But here’s the thing: For the most part, they’re sort of happy.

So let’s skip the national anthem and get right to it. Here are nine lessons you can learn from baseball fans about hope, faith and emotional well-being.

1. Optimism is its own reward. Lots of baseball fans root for bad teams. But at this time of year, these true believers find themselves doing what-if calculations.

What if the players acquired during the off-season come through with some dominant pitching, timely hitting and clutch defense? What if a few of the so-so holdovers surprise everyone with career years? What if certain other teams in the division stumble?

Hey, anything could happen.

Even before the first game, these fans are buoyed by visions of success.

Maybe being open to the possibility of good things makes you a more upbeat person, even if wishes don’t always turn into home runs.

You can apply that outlook to real life. Though it doesn’t automatically follow that hoping means your kids will suddenly start taking school seriously or that the three-alarm new hire in accounting will go out with you.

2. Pre-emptive pessimism is the protective cup of emotional attachment. Seemingly contradictory, this actually fits hand-in-glove with No. 1.

Some fans attempt to inoculate themselves against late summer heartache by engaging in mantra-like mumbling that the bums they root for will always find a way to blow it.

This attitude can also be useful in daily life, especially in this economy.

3. Probabilities and outcomes matter. Ever wondered why baseball fans are obsessed with statistics? Well, it’s simple. They yearn to live in a just world. They want to be guided by objective reality, not partisan spin and know-nothing blather.

The seemingly arcane numbers are crucial because a pinch-hitter can’t just lobby or petition his way to first base.

The takeaway? Stick to the facts.

4. Maintain equilibrium. Because baseball is played virtually every day, real fans know they cannot afford to get too high over a single victory or too low because of a single defeat.

People who live their lives like that are said to be mature. Those who don’t are called drama queens.

5. Recognize that constant spitting and crotch-adjusting makes one look like a moron. OK, maybe not all baseball fans realize this. But they should.

6. It’s OK to care about things over which you have no control. When loudly complaining about inept managers, inconsistent umpires or useless relief pitchers, baseball fans are able to step outside their own little worlds and connect with a broader social consciousness. This can be a healthy break from self-absorption. The arts offer somewhat similar diversions. Still, the snacks tend to be better in baseball and there is more latitude for random yelling.

7. Taking turns is the way to go. Unlike some followers of the sports ruled by clocks, baseball fans appreciate the inherent fairness of equal opportunity.

They get three outs. We get three outs.

Children intuitively relate to this. Unlike, say, “If you have a lead near the end of the game, just hold the ball and force your opponent to foul you over and over.”

8. Resilience. There’s a guy in Spokane who roots for a far-away baseball team. That team was alone in first place in its division from around Mother’s Day until the last day of the regular season in 2009. When they then lost a one-game playoff for the pennant, he declared, “That’s it, I’m done with baseball forever.”

This year? He’s back. He isn’t getting his hopes up, mind you. But if his favorite player, an occasionally overpowering pitcher, can manage to win about 25 games, who knows what might happen.

9. There’s always next year. Not just a corollary to No. 8, this really is the essence of baseball fandom — at least for stoic followers of teams that don’t routinely win. It’s about faith, hope and the belief in the possibility of change.

The same could be said of fans of underachieving teams in other sports, of course. But that wait-till-next-year sentiment is a particular time-honored tradition in certain baseball circles.

Some superhumanly patient baseball fans seem to take pride in embracing the truth that sometimes life isn’t fair.

The performance martyrs among them, we could do without. But the folks who manage to be grown-ups about rooting for their teams, they deserve a tip of the cap.

Forget about erratic and unreliable athletes. Those fans should be our role models.

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