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The Prodigal Nerd: An Ode to Baseball (Or Whatever…)

Last year around this time (March, to be exact, just as Coronavirus lockdowns were happening and everything fun was shutting down) I wrote about my spring baseball ritual. If you don’t want to go read the whole thing, just know that it involves me rewatching a fairly extensive list of movies and TV episodes that are baseball-themed or baseball adjacent.

And by fairly extensive, I mean that last year’s list was 24 films (if you take each episode of Ken Burns’ Baseball as its own film; 14 films if you want to lump all 23+ hours of Baseball into one) and 6 TV episodes from shows as diverse as Bones, Mythbusters, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, The Simpsons, and The X-Files.

It took a pretty monumental amount of time and dedication to get through all of this material, between having a job, two kids, and a wife who also likes to watch things other than baseball. But I did it, because I love baseball and I love these movies/TV episodes.

And you know what? I’ve done it every year since probably 2010, and this year I’m doing it all again. Because not only do I love baseball and these movies/episodes, I love the connection to the game that I feel when I go through my yearly spring ritual.

I love remembering what it was like to see Scott Smalls hit his first home run in The Sandlot, and the terror that came afterwards. I love remembering the feeling of watching Jackie Robinson take the field as a major leaguer in 42, the pride and triumph of that moment mitigated by the racism and hatred he endured. I love rewatching ESPN’s Four Nights in October and reliving what it felt like to watch the Red Sox face elimination by the Yankees for the second straight year, only to become the first team ever to overcome a 3-1 series deficit and win the ALCS, and ultimately the World Series. I love experiencing all over again my all-time favorite X-Files episode, “The Unnatural”, moving from the whimsical to the sincere to the heartbreaking to the hopeful, all in a 45 minute runtime.

For me, these movies, TV episodes, stories all strike my nostalgia bone in one way or another. They’re good stories, all of them. But some of them will preach, as they say. Some of them are just delightful. Some of them are important in a social or cultural way. All of them have left enough of an imprint on my consciousness that rewatching them takes me back to wherever I was when I saw them for the first time. There’s comfort in that, but it’s not just about that. I believe there’s also importance in revisiting old haunts. Checking in with the things that helped make us who we are. Touching base with one’s roots.

For me, so many of those formational moments and stories revolve around baseball. It truly is the thing I am probably the most nerdy about, at least in the sense I’m describing in this article and the others I’ve written about baseball here. For you it could be stories and moments that revolve around a tabletop game like D&D, and the people you journeyed with into that realm. It could be a lifelong obsession with serial comics and graphic novels, hours spent dissecting and anticipating with fellow readers. It might be something else entirely for you.

Regardless, the point I’m trying to make is this: whatever your nerd obsession is, figure out what it is that truly matters to you about it, and celebrate that relentlessly. Sing your own ode to whatever it is that you love. Do, within reason, whatever it is that refreshes and reenergizes that obsession, and all of the positive connections that go along with it. And listen, I just admitted (again) that my yearly baseball ritual involves about 60 hours of film and TV watching, so you know my bar for “within reason” is pretty low…