Welcome to the time immediately after baseball season: Fall Ball in Arizona, the start of the Australian Baseball League campaign, and the days of quoting Rogers Hornsby (“People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring”).
The Kansas City Royals have been crowned; the Major League Baseball season is over. We are into window-staring hours, dreaming of how good the Cubs and Astros will be next year.
Temperatures are currently unseasonably warm in the northern part of the country, but it won’t be long before the wind turns vicious and the skies turn gray. Seasonal Affective Disorder is, in large part, Baseball Absence Disorder. The passing of the baseball season leaves a hangover feeling. For the past several weeks, nearly every night was filled with a postseason battle. The day ended, the night began, and there was baseball. On-field tension can’t be replaced by managerial maneuvering in Washington. Something is now missing from life.
Annually, though, the writer Ben Lindbergh offers a riposte to those who quote Hornsby. Excerpting a Lindbergh tweet: “…there are more productive things you can do with your winter than stare out the window and wait for spring.”
Removing the constraints of a daily baseball game from one’s schedule allows an easier sleep pattern and a greater focus on both short-term and long-term production. During the season, there is always the game to account for, as well as the potential for a slump to start. There are no slumps in the offseason, only consistent grinding work to get ahead of schedule and improve by next April. It is the same for sales and promotions departments, taking this time to connect with clients and lock down schedules for the coming year. Get ahead of last year’s numbers now, feel more confidence and less pressure when the calendar turns.
A strength and conditioning coach in the Blue Jays’ system, Ryan Maedel, impressed upon me how crucial these autumn and winter days are for a ballplayer looking to break through in the following season. Now is the time to get faster or stronger, to drop body fat or add muscle. Decades ago, players reported to Spring Training for the specific purpose of getting back in shape. Now it is understood that a player who reports to camp out of shape puts himself behind schedule for the entire season. The cliched March story of the player “in the best shape of his life” — that simply tells the tale of someone who refocused and committed himself in the offseason, understanding how important it was to put in work out of uniform. For those players who lost major time to injury, the international leagues provide the opportunity to get more work in, offering a new stage to be challenged in.
And these days, perhaps foremost, are for family. For baseball people busy virtually every day from February through the end of October (or nearly invisible between April and September), this is their time to come home, get away from the game, and gain closure on another year completed. These are weeks used for vacations, for quality time to be shared between loved ones. These are the moments to wake up early and drive children to school, or to wait with them at the bus stop, half-anonymous in the morning chill.
Baseball Absence Disorder is consuming. Baseball is our passion, in certain circumstances our obsession, and life without the game is incomplete.
How we use these months away from the game will shape our experience in the coming year.
Earl Averill in the offseason at League Park, Cleveland.