My childhood bedroom had no ornamentation in it, save a single framed photograph of Stan Musial that sat on my nightstand. As I tried to fall asleep I would stare at the photograph and feel its weight in my hands.
Only when I reached adolescence did it occur to me to ask who this man was and why I should care about him. He was a player for my beloved baseball team, I was informed.
Surprised to discover that I possessed a baseball team and that I loved them, I decided I would take the next opportunity I could to go to their stadium and find out what exactly they did for me.
When I first arrived at the stadium, I did not know you needed a ticket to get in and was turned away. Knowing how much it cost to attend a baseball game only deepened my conviction that whatever happened in that stadium must truly provide consolation for all who attended.
Later in life when I had my first part-time job, I could finally afford to go to a baseball game. I entered the stadium, found my assigned seat and waited for the game to start.
It was only an hour later that I mustered the courage to ask the person sitting next to me when the baseball game would start. She informed me that the game had already started and was in something called the fourth inning.
With horror, I looked down to the field and realized that the people who had been throwing around a small white ball were the baseball game. They were trying to communicate something to me, and I had missed the beginning of the message.
I focused intently on throw after throw, trying to decipher the way in which my baseball team would vindicate my life. But as the game wore on and I came no closer to discovering its meaning, doubt slowly crept into my mind. What if I would never figure out the meaning of baseball?
Eventually, a batter missed the ball just as he and others had a hundred times already, and the game’s cruel masters declared it over. “We won,” people began cheering. “No. We’ve lost,” I screamed, but my voice was drowned out in the drone of the masses.
Desperate for an answer but secretly expecting none, I turned to the woman beside me and asked her what she stood to gain from watching the baseball game. She stared at me for a second, and said, “Well, nothing. It’s not that I gain from watching baseball. It’s just something I like to do.”
Though I didn’t realize it at the time, those words contained the one solace that would help me understand why people gave their hard-earned money to a baseball team season after season.
The team isn’t theirs because it provides them with some intrinsic good. It’s theirs because they claim it as their own, knowing that this claim is just as meaningful as any intrinsic connection. They wisely produce meaning where they know there is none to be found.