So many times in my life, I’ve heard how Major League Baseball players should be happy they’re getting paid to play a kids game.
Baseball is not a kids game. Baseball is a game, that kids happen to play, that can be unspeakably joyous, but that is almost punishingly adult.
Tell me if this sounds tailored to children: You’re on the field for hours. You could easily go one of those hours without touching a ball in play — if you get to touch the ball at all. If it does come to you and you can’t make the play, or if you get up to the plate but don’t get on base, you get to spend all that quiet time, all that time standing out in the open but mentally in solitary confinement, thinking about what you did wrong.
This is no fairy tale. You don’t know when redemption is coming. You don’t know if redemption is coming.
In tennis, you’re hitting the ball every minute. In basketball, you are dribbling, passing, shooting. Even the measured pace of golf offers a unique benefit — the worse you are, the more swings you get to take.
Baseball requires a level of patience that is on par with serving detention. It is steeped in delayed gratification. It requires conquering the fear of failure, not to mention the fear of knowing that your opponent is throwing or hitting the ball at you as hard as possible.
The payoff is through the roof, but the pay-in is through the sky.
Baseball requires massive coping skills, even when there are no real stakes attached. And when there are stakes … man. There is nothing childlike or innocent about the pressure that the professional sport of baseball puts on its players.
Baseball is my favorite game. At any age, it is a privilege to play. It is beyond rewarding when you succeed. It may be the most serene, the most exquisite of all contests. But by its nature, baseball requires you to rise above your station. The bliss that baseball offers a child is that singular taste of the pinnacle of life, but there’s almost no chance of tasting that bliss without more than a little adult in you.
Kids build sandcastles for fun. Adults build sandcastles to last. If you make it far enough in baseball to play in front of tens of thousands of fans and tens of millions of viewers, it’s because you have been building sandcastles to last almost your entire life, and you are now meant to be impervious to waves.
That’s why you get paid. And because so many of us value that skill, because so many of us are entertained by that skill, because so many of us are in awe of that skill, that’s why you get paid like kings.