Three days ago, a singer performed a concert, as they do all over the world. She had it, that odd mixture of pure talent, undeniable charisma, and instantly relateable personality. It allowed her to rocket from shooting music covers on Youtube as a 15 year-old in her bedroom to releasing her first full album at 19 to a hugely successful season on The Voice. Seven years went by, and while the internet, her voice, and the world changed, her infectiousness never wavered.
After her performance that night, she did a meet and greet, interacting with her fans as she always had and always would. Youtube's uniqueness lends fans an extraordinarily intimate relationship with its stars, as they and only they make the stars into stars, without any corporate or artificial input. As she did the meet and greet, one single individual walked up and shot her in the head before being tackled and shooting himself in the process. With a careless action, that one individual snuffed out two lights that night--his own, and that which belonged to a burgeoning talent whose future was painfully bright. His attempt to bind his unknown to her fame forever killed them both.
The whole thing just didn't make sense. Why her? Why now? Why?
The following day, Major League Baseball rolled on as if nothing happened. Games were played, content was written about baseball players' on-field impact and off-the-field lives. Millions upon millions watched a game wherein athletic freaks used shaved lumber and cow gloves to hit and throw a white sphere around giant playpens built for that express purpose.
Then, Sunday morning, we suffered the most gruesome mass shooting in the history of the United States of America. A singular gunman whose name doesn't deserve to be spoken aloud or in print brought assault rifles to a gay nightclub. He wounded 53 people, and was killed by police after three hours.
In addition to 53 wounded, the shooter murdered 49 people, each of whom had lovers, mothers, friends, hopes, and dreams. All 49 of those people had unique life stories, and though none of them had the opportunity to entertain millions, each of their lives were as important as Grimmie's, mere miles away from Grimmie's death in the same city of Orlando.
Baseball, again, goes on as normal. We have normal content here at Royals Review, as does the Kansas City Star, Baseball Prospectus Kansas City, MLB.com, Kings of Kauffman, as well as your cousin Eddie who's latest opinion is about how much better the Royals would be if they could just finish that darn trade of Omar Infante for Clayton Kershaw.
But it just doesn't seem right. A week ago, I was furious that stupid Ned was still leading off Alcides Escobar, the second-worst hitter in the Major Leagues over the last four years. There was nothing I could do about it but write an angry article, and somewhere in the editorial hopper there is an angrily-typed article with the headline of 'Alcides Esccobar is having the worst season of his career and the Royals don't know or care' that may or may not get written, as things go.
But on Saturday, I couldn't shake the fact that a bright young woman's tombstone will read '1994-2016,' and on Sunday I couldn't shake the fact that this is just another in a long line of mass shootings. Later this year we'll have another one, and we'll feign surprise and shook as Congress shuffles around trying very hard to look like they're doing something about it.
I've reflected upon this in the days since these events, and I've come up with a question: why does baseball matter? Why should we care if the Royals go 90-72 or 72-90? Why does it matter if Yordano Ventura gets into another fight? Why do we care so much, pouring our hearts and our minds into a silly little thing as watching and talking about a game?
The most important thing to think about here is that baseball isn't only about guys running around bases more times than the opponent. Baseball is community. Baseball is a method of connecting to others in a world where sometimes that can be difficult. It's entertaining, for sure, and that cannot be ignored. But most of us can point to places where baseball made an emotional impact in our lives--maybe you met your spouse at a baseball game, or proposed at a baseball game, or vividly remember eating a hot dog with your late grandfather as a kid at a baseball game, or re-connecting with an old friend after a big victory. Maybe baseball was a way to meet new people in an unfamiliar place, or as a means of escaping from the jumbled mess that is real life.
Baseball, by itself, is a silly little game. At the end of the day, it really is just a game, and our lives aren't any better when the team is doing better. A blown save and a loss won't affect our job interview, or our credit card payment, or our housing application, just as a come-from-behind victory won't help.
But like all forms of entertainment, its method of escapism and community cultivation can mean so much more. After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, baseball postponed all games for a while. That evening, our family had tickets to the Royals game against the Indians, a game not to be played that night. No professional sporting event happened in New York City until 10 days later, when the Atlanta Braves played the New York Mets at Shea Stadium. And it was different. You could feel it. Mets catcher Mike Piazza certainly could, but he came through in the late innings anyway.
'Insignificant' is a word that the broadcasters that evening used to describe baseball in the wake of tragedy. Insignificant. And it's not wrong. Baseball, like all sport, does not transcend. It can't transcend the human condition like art or illuminate humanity's knowledge like science. It is just a game.
But in its insignificance can be created significance. There's something about coming together to watch a stupid game that's an act of defiance in a world where terrible things can happen at the pull of a trigger or a guiding hand on a joystick of an airplane, where we all recognize that there are no teams in the difficulties of life. After all the tragedy, we can still care and love, and by our community we preserve our humanity.
Baseball ultimately is community, and community is so often love. That is why it is important.