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The Off-Season: Joy And…

The Off-Season: Joy And Suffering

by Tim Kabel

December 23, 2021

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Two weeks ago, I wrote an article comparing the lifespan of a pet to the career of a Major League ballplayer. This was prompted by my Shetland Sheepdog Dakota’s sudden health issues, which included an inability to get up from a lying position without assistance. In the following two weeks, his overall condition worsened despite occasional brief appearances of being hale and hearty. He lost his appetite, which was exceedingly unusual. In the past, he would wipe out his bowl of food in the blink of an eye and pretend he had never received any in the first place. I used to think that you couldn’t kill his appetite with silver bullets and a wooden stake. So, it was shocking to see him stare blankly at his food and not eat it. In my effort to care for him, I began making him little omelets, or mixing his food with the irresistible of all irresistibles: peanut butter. I gave the little gourmand various types of deli cheeses. Smoked gouda was clearly his favorite. He ate slightly better but still not enough. His decline was rapid and today, he had to be put down. He was not yet eight years old.

You may be reading this and wondering to yourself, what does this have to do with baseball? On the surface, not very much, but today as I was thinking about my little friend, I thought about being a baseball fan as well. Being a baseball fan is like owning a dog. I suppose you could say the same thing about a cat but having three cats occupy my house at the present time, I can truthfully declare that no one ever owns a cat. The arrangement with a cat is more of a loose allegiance. It is not even an allegiance of mutual benefit. Essentially, the cat resides in your home, you feed it, clean the litter box, and provide it with warmth and comfort. In exchange, it ignores you and barely tolerates your existence. Occasionally, the cat will leave you a dead rodent or small bird on the steps, if it has access to the outdoors. It is often thought that this is some type of offering. I suppose that could be true but, I think it may be more along the lines of the horse’s head in the Godfather. a warning of the dire consequences if you don’t toe the line. Therefore, I will restrict my comments to dogs.

Neither the ownership of a dog nor being a baseball fan are essential to life. There are people who do both or one or the other. There are many people who have no interest in baseball or no desire to own a dog. There are a few rare birds who abstain from both baseball and dogs. These people are to be watched closely. Although owning a dog and being a baseball fan are not essential to life, once you do either or both, you can’t imagine living without them. They become natural to you and provide you with pleasure and a respite from your day-to-day existence.

If you’ve had a hard day at work, or you’re having financial troubles or an argument with your spouse, sitting down and watching a ballgame or the simple act of petting your dog can provide instant relief and comfort. Watching a ballgame on the couch with your dog’s head on your lap is a simple pleasure but it can seem like a real luxury. Being a baseball fan and a dog owner can bring great joy into your life. But it’s not all peaches and cream.

Your dog, just like your baseball team, can cause you tremendous annoyance and frustration. Your dog can chew up your slippers, run through the screen door, eat the cookies you had earmarked for an episode of Yellowstone or bark in the middle of the night, waking you up. Your baseball team can go on a losing streak, be eliminated from the playoffs, trade your favorite player, or let you down in myriad other ways. There will be times will you question the wisdom of becoming a dog owner or a baseball fan in the first place. You will actually consider giving them up. You will think of a life without a dog, and you will weigh the option of watching some other sport, or no sport at all. Ultimately, however, you will return to your love. Those thoughts of jettisoning old Fido or the Red Sox will fade when the dog does something particularly endearing, or the team goes on a three-game winning streak. Face it, you are hooked.

Many people love baseball for its relaxed pace and the fact that it has no clock, unlike other sports. The same can be said of owning a dog. You know that eventually your dog’s life will end but the journey from puppy to old dog is a long one and like baseball, it can provide us with many wonderful, frustrating, humorous, and sad memories. Although we may have momentary thoughts of living our lives without baseball or without a dog, once we have embraced them as part of our lives, it is unlikely that we will abandon them.

I have owned many dogs in my life, and I have been a devoted Yankees’ fan since I was ten years old. I’m disappointed when my team loses, and I am devastated every time one of my dogs dies. Yet, opening day fills me with a sense of hope, wonder, and enthusiasm. When I see a neighbor with a new puppy, something stirs inside me, and I realize that I want one myself. In both instances, you know the prospect for disappointment and sorrow is great. Out of thirty baseball teams, only one wins the World Series. No matter how cute and full of life a new puppy seems, eventually it will pass away. We are willing to accept the sorrow and disappointment because of the tremendous joy and happiness that being a baseball fan and owning a dog brings us.

Today, someone asked me if I was going to get another dog, since Dakota was my only dog at this point. I hesitated and stated that I would not be doing so at this point. That is a fair and accurate statement. This is not the right time for me to get another dog for a variety of reasons. However, when one considers the facts, they tell a different story. I am 57 years old and other than one period that lasted about six months, I have lived with at least one dog for my entire life. Therefore, you have 56 1/2 years of dog ownership against six months of non-dog ownership. You can do the math. I anticipate living many more years, so it is highly likely that when the time and circumstances are right, I will own another dog.

Right now, we are in a lockout in Major League Baseball. There are no transactions on the Major League level. There are no free agent signings or trades. There is very little talk about actual baseball and what each team is doing because none of them are doing anything on the Major League level. However, once the lockout ends, I, and many other baseball fans, will plunge headfirst back into the daily routine of seeing what our team is up to as it prepares for 2022. Someday, I don’t know when, I imagine I will be sitting in my chair doing so while petting an as yet unnamed canine companion.

Dog ownership and baseball fandom are similar in another way, in that individual players, teams and dogs stand out in our mind. Dakota was a Shetland Sheepdog, a breed known for their great agility and athleticism, yet my little friend was by far, the clumsiest dog I have ever seen. He could actually trip and fall up a flight of stairs. If he were able to speak, the most common word he would have uttered would have been “oof”, as he stumbled, tripped, or fell somewhere. He never chewed shoes but, he could remove the laces from a shoe, with the stealth of a ninja. When he stood outside and I called him, he would invariably look over his right shoulder and then his left to see who it was I wanted. When he clambered up onto the new deck, he would only come up on the staircase that had a handrail. This was curious, because he didn’t have hands and he was too short to reach the railing. He was a special little fellow and he is already missed. I’m sure I will think about him often and in 2022, I anticipate watching a Yankees’ game, munching on some smoked gouda cheese and reminiscing about my friend. Yes, when it comes to owning a dog and being a baseball fan, as Hyman Roth said in The Godfather Part 2, “this is the life we have chosen.”

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