Baseball, Anxiety, and the Length of the Wick in a Candle

“For it is money they have, and peace they lack.” When James Earl Jones utters this phrase in Field of Dreams, it’s hard for me not to get a lump in my throat. As cheesy as some might consider this scene, it nonetheless resonates with me and remains an iconic scene in movie history. Nostalgia aside, there is just something about the organization and structure of baseball that I connect with. I suspect I like it for the same reason I like candles. There are flickers and flashes of excitement, but ultimately, the fire is contained and some of the excitement goes unseen. In a candle, there are simple elements and basic laws of physics in play that not only allow a fire to burn, but a fire to remain contained. There is a finite melancholy to both baseball and a burning candle. The game will end at a given point, but the game is not measured by a clock. Players aren’t fighting against time as much as they are fighting against the elements of the game. Much in the same way, the length of time a candle will burn is relative to the length of the wick, but a stiff breeze can always snuff out the flame. Baseball is measured by innings and outs, but time is the one thing to which baseball is nearly immune. I suppose the dreaded and dreadful pitch clock might be the length of the wick in this analogy.

Anxiety sometimes makes enjoyable things less enjoyable. It is common for co-occurring disorders to be prevalent in a person that lives with mental health issues – however moderate or severe, regular or episodic they may be. I generally do not get overly anxious when trying new things or going somewhere for the first time, although this can sometimes occur. I can easily enjoy a loud, chaotic rock concert or be immersed in a crowd of people. It’s a different story when a crowd suddenly forms around me, but even that is easily manageable. Being late causes me a lot of stress, which is why I am almost always early. But mostly, my anxiety works by way of time travel. To put it simply, my mind brings stress from Friday into Monday, and my body reacts because of it. So when I am stressed out at the end of a Monday and I am time traveling to Friday and my kid spills a glass of milk, my stuck-on-anxious-mode brain suddenly overreacts. My body has little to no choice but to follow those misguided but ever-firing impulses from my brain. For some reason, in those momentary lapses of reason, the fire spills over the edge of the candle.

Suppose you are walking through the woods and you step on a stick. Your brain tells you that the stick is a snake, and you go into what is known as fight or flight. Here’s the thing – you can only step on so many sticks and think they are snakes until your brain just decides every stick is a snake. I’ve learned to manage this over the years by practicing mindfulness techniques, recognizing triggers, and physical manifestations of those triggers. When I can’t recognize the triggers, I can lose control. And I hate losing control. It’s not that I am controlling, but that I fear the lack of control. There is also a tremendous amount of guilt that comes with letting things like anxiety or depression get the better of you in given moments. Again, co-occurring disorders are common, and irritability is a common co-occurring disorder. The depressed person gets irritable, feels guilty for being irritable and overreacting about things, and then gets depressed again because of that guilt. So that’s awesome…

But so it is with baseball. The game requires mindfulness, patience, and structure, and yet is somehow not explicitly bound by a physical clock. If you cannot control those visceral reactions while playing the game, the game will likely control you. I have learned to live with my anxiety by developing daily structures and routines while trying to leave room for some surprises here and there. One inning in a baseball game might last fifteen minutes and another inning might last forty-five. The unique thing about baseball is that every inning will contain six outs, regardless of the length. So while there is a rhythm and structure to each inning, the actual amount of time the inning will last is a bit more elastic – and there are likely to be some surprises along the way. A candle’s purpose is largely bound by its size and the length of its wick, and it is unlikely that any two candles will burn for exactly the same amount of time. If it truly is money I have and peace I lack, I will gladly spend my money on baseball. I tend to shy away from being overly concerned about finances anyway, because I know that it will bring me untold amounts of anxiety and temple rubbing and questions that I have to yell to my wife because of course they make more sense when I yell. Yeah, if it truly is money that I have and peace that I lack, I will fork over a few bucks for a good ball game any day of the week.