Baseball season is well underway and, once again, it's the time of year that my husband accepts that almost nothing comes between his wife and her "Damn Yankees."
Don't get me wrong. My marriage to John has been going strong for over 25 years now -- we share an office, four children, two grandkids and even an avid interest in sports. But my love of baseball borders on obsession.
John sees it more like an addiction (as a psychiatrist/psychologist couple, we quibble over labels like these), and he's only half joking when he says that a 12-step program might be in order. But how can I argue? Our friends debate politics -- Obama vs. Mitt. Our kids discuss indie bands -- Van Etten vs. Del Ray. My mind goes to pitchers -- CC or Pettitte vs. Lester or Beckett. And while some cheer American Idols going from third to first, I cheer Bronx Bombers going from first to third. In truth, from the start of Spring Training until the last out of the World Series, John pretty much becomes a full-fledged designated hitter.
He tries to look at the bright side of things. Each day after work, we head home together to cuddle on our couch -- no, not to read his copy of Fifty Shades of Gray -- but to watch nine guys in pinstripes put passion into the Art of Fielding. The fact is, with no blackberry or computer for distraction, John has me all to himself and even enjoys the excitement the Yankees stir. I may "ooh" and "ah" as I ogle at these complete strangers, but he's the one I hug any time they make a great play.
John's impatience comes only when our date nights are worked around game nights or when dinner out means a local sports bar with my eyes glued to the big screen. Of course booking vacations during the postseason doesn't even come up for discussion. And if the Yankees make it to the playoffs, all plans get canceled. The World Series on Tivo is not an option.
My husband isn't at all surprised by my passion for baseball. He knew full well that I was a tomboy growing up -- playing stickball and running bases, not hopscotch or jump rope. My older brother was my mentor and accomplice. Desperate to play with someone on long summer days, he taught me everything he knew; how to hit, throw, catch and pitch. He told me later that I was "pretty good, for a girl," and grudgingly admitted that the neighborhood boys agreed. I was small, but had good hands and wasn't afraid of the ball, so I became their regular 2nd baseman. Being asked to play in these pick-up games was my version of childhood heaven.
Unfortunately by high-school, softball was the only option for girls my age and underhand pitching with a fat ball just wasn't for me. So I channeled my athleticism elsewhere, focusing on ballet. To me, dance was like sports in pink tights; lots of sweat, discipline and teamwork. Eventually pirouettes and pointe shoes replaced change-ups and cleats, and I went on to become a professional ballerina. It wasn't until many years later, after I started having children, that my obsession with baseball returned.
When my kids began playing Little League, I figured I'd get back to the game by coaching. I started by offering to do the stuff dad coaches hate (like coordinating schedules, emailing parents and bringing snacks), always hoping the guys might give me more on-field responsibility. Sure enough, when a coach didn't show one time, I was asked to start batting practice. As my muscle memory kicked in and my pitches reached the middle of the plate -- more consistently and hittable than those thrown by pumped up male arms -- my role on the team was secured.
My husband says, correctly, that the path to my full-blown affair with baseball really took hold when our youngest played on an AAU team. John was pretty good at humoring me, reading his professional journals while feigning interest in our endless baseball chatter. Weekend after weekend for five years, I traveled with my son as he played tournaments around the country. It meant spending an increasing amount of time with a group of guys other than my husband -- six dads and 14 boys -- who called me "Coach Viv." We shared a passion for baseball that had no end in sight.
It reached a fevered pitch one August, when the team was asked to compete in a week-long invitational tournament at Cooperstown Dreams Park. It was a huge honor for this team, since no team from New York City had ever qualified before. I am almost embarrassed to recall my quickening heartbeat as I learned I would be one among three women (along with a female nurse and umpire) living amidst thousands of men and boys attending championship week. Anyone hearing my excitement as I described the feats of my young players would have said, "I'll have what she's having!"
The sheer physicality of coaching, managing parents and cheering for the team left me with very little energy for doing much else. Poor John -- dreaming of pristine golf courses or quiet Caribbean beaches -- was stuck watching his wife coach baseball from the sidelines of buggy, humid ballparks. Amazingly, he remained patient and tolerant, not only that summer at Cooperstown, but all those many seasons until I retired from my field of dreams.
You see, John seemed to understand that my fascination with competitive baseball had its roots in the same passion that once drove me to be a ballerina and that continues in my work as a writer and psychologist. He knows it made me the woman he fell in love with. I like to think it is not an unhealthy love affair, this passion I have for baseball, and I expect it to burn until I'm a very old lady.
So, another season has started and John knows what that means -- we'll be sharing our time with the boys of summer. And, while John isn't looking, I plan to soft toss to our 5-year-old granddaughter to make sure she learns to hit and throw like I do. Baseball and my husband: I treasure them both, ever grateful I never had to choose between love and the glove.
Do you have an absorbing interest or activity? How does your mate deal with it?
Vivian Diller, Ph.D. is a psychologist in private practice in New York City. She serves as a media expert on various psychological topics and as a consultant to companies promoting health, beauty and cosmetic products. Her book, "Face It: What Women Really Feel As Their Looks Change" (2010), edited by Michele Willens, is a psychological guide to help women deal with the emotions brought on by their changing appearances.
For more information, please visit my website at www.VivianDiller.com and continue the conversation on Twitter at DrVDiller.
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