The Simple Joys of Going to a Baseball Game Alone
Are you allowed to attend a ballgame by yourself? Of course, and here's why.
A couple years ago, after a bad breakup, I wasn’t doing too well. The usual stuff: I couldn’t sleep past five in the morning, food tasted like socks and my suddenly empty schedule was causing anxiety. I needed to do things, I decided, and preferably with as many people as possible, so I walked into the office of a coworker who’d always struck me as having his social life figured out. He listened to my story, then started writing bullets on the whiteboard. The third bullet threw me for a loop.
Do Things Alone, he’d written. What? Go to movies, he said. Go to concerts. Your sense of self worth shouldn’t be contingent on whether you experienced something with somebody else. In the end, it’ll be a different sort of experience — a different sort of afternoon, a different sort of trip abroad — but it counts just the same.
My friend was giving me advice, but it felt like he was giving me permission. That fall, I started taking mat pilates classes alone. I went to a weekend of talks at The New Yorker Festival alone. I went out for a few dinners alone. I also discovered the bliss of attending baseball games alone.
I’ve been to more baseball games solo this year than with people. Regardless of the ballpark, I like to sit high up behind home plate, in the grandstand or terrace. I’m also willing to sit in the outfield, though not necessarily in the bleachers. I’m just looking for a ticket that’s under $40.
I’ve been to baseball games with foreigners and first-timers before, and it’s funny to watch them slowly realize that attending a game doesn’t have to include actually watching the game. Hunting for the garlic fries stand for two innings still counts as going to a baseball game. You can rip tall boys, catch up with friends, clap for the odd home run, play the cap game on the Jumbotron and catch the subway home without having any solid grasp of the box score — but you still very much went to a baseball game.
Sometimes, though, I just really want to watch baseball. Some of the insecure moves Commissioner Rob Manfred has pioneered over the last few years — a pitching “clock,” runners on second to start extra innings, seven-inning doubleheader games — are intended to make baseball quicker and more palatable to the TikTok generation. But MLB might want to fret less about the fans they don’t have and consider why the ones they do have choose to tune in every year. I once saw an online commenter describe baseball fanhood as a “second full-time job.” It’s true. If you watch just two-thirds of a season, that’s 100 games; if you’re already that committed, chances are you’re not worried about a superfluous seven seconds in between pitches.
For me, solo baseball games are a mental health feast. They’re mindful, they’re meditative. They’re also the perfect opportunity to indulge a bit — I like to have fries, a couple beers, a big pretzel. I put my phone away for a few hours — one time, wielding a paper ticket, I didn’t bring it all — and I just let the game happen. Those who don’t understand baseball often describe the sport as a lot of waiting for something good to happen. Well, their purgatory is my paradise. So much (probably too much) has been written likening baseball stadiums to cathedrals. But it’s funny — at games by myself, it does feel a bit like I’m in a pew, simply letting my mind wander as uniformed men go about practicing inherited traditions and an organ plays over the loud speaker.
There was a study a few years back that discovered humans would rather give themselves electric shocks than be alone with their thoughts for just 15 minutes. Yikes. Not that you’re ever really alone at a baseball game — not when people are screaming “Charge!” three rows down from you — but I’ve come to consider it a solid stepping stone for practicing solitude. Loneliness is unhealthy for the brain and body, but being alone is actually very important for well-being. In the age of FaceTime, Gmail and Slack, it’s critical to find arenas (in this case, literally), where you can feel comfortable in the discomfort of social withdrawal. It’s critical for well-being, as a way to sharpen concentration and memory while boosting creativity and empathy.
And ironically, it will likely improve your relationships in the long run. When we take time to care for ourselves, we can give others the attention they need. The key in all this is just to find a solitary activity that you actually want to do. There’s a reason mental health woes skyrocketed during the pandemic, when alone time was forced. Solitude is at its most potent when the experience is elective, when it’s explored at a personal pace. That’s how I really know I disagree with baseball’s current “pace of play” debate. I’ll take a supposedly bloated four-hour game any day of the week. It’s time to watch doubles nd double plays, yes, but also to recharge and leave feeling lighter, whether your team won or lost.
I still love going to games with other people. In the next month alone, I’m going to three games at different ballparks, all with various friends. For the last game, I’ll be in a group of eight. But I’ll be doing my fair share of solo pilgrimages as well. In case you’ve never considered it for yourself, or you were subconsciously waiting for permission: grab a ticket and go. Taking nine innings for yourself isn’t weird or lame or sad. It’s a good idea, and you’ll be surprised to find that it’s good company.
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