I think every athlete will tell you that the satisfaction they get from a big win, from a monster individual performance, from a game-changing play, will provide the sort of adrenaline high that you just can’t find anywhere else. But they will also tell you of the paralyzing loneliness that comes with blowing a game, the moment when everything was on the line, and you dropped the ball. I know this firsthand.
This year, I came in to close a game at Virginia, but allowed our two-run lead to slip away, watching the Cavaliers walk us off the field. I was miserable the entire trip home, I didn’t really want to talk to anyone, and I felt like no one wanted to talk to me. Mistakes happen and people make errors, I understand that, but that still doesn’t make them any easier.
It is in those moments of self-perceived uselessness, when only the cold reality of defeat and the relentless rigors of Boston College academic life keep you company, that all athletes (and I would extend this to all students) need some sort of other outlet to express themselves. When all you think about is training and studying, eventually you’re going to snap.
Personally, earlier this year all I really judged myself on was my performance in baseball and school, and I felt really hollow. If I had a bad outing, I had a bad day as a whole. This column has given me the forum and opportunity to express my thoughts and hopefully tell relatable anecdotes. Every other week I am given a blank slate and let my thoughts flow onto the keyboard.
My teammate and roommate, John Witkowski, finds his release through painting. Life as a student-athlete is rigorously structured: we wake up, we go to lift, go to class, go to practice/game, do homework and study, and go to bed. In season, it seems like there is time for little else. Wit, a studio art minor, has told me that what he finds so appealing about the canvas is working in abstracts and using colors to represent different emotions. So much of life as an athlete is judged in black and white terms—did you produce or not?—that it’s refreshing to see the blank canvas and have nothing but possibility at your fingertips.
Many professional athletes use hobbies as a way to show their personality. A lot of people make fun of Cam Newton or Russell Westbrook for their ridiculous fashion choices in pregame and postgame press conferences. Detroit Tigers’ pitcher Daniel Norris is regarded for his interest in photography, and Cleveland Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer, an avid video maker, famously sliced his finger open while operating a drone during the 2016 MLB playoffs.
In a lot of ways, I think these escapes can help both athletic performance and academic life. As a starting pitcher, every game is entirely different. Of course the opponent is different and the weather always varies, but there are more minute aspects of a game that most fans don’t notice that make all the difference. For instance, your body never feels quite the same way every time out there, but it’s your job to work with what you have on any given day. Similarly, the umpire may have a big strike zone, or he may have a microscopic strike zone, he may be consistent or inconsistent, and you can’t let that affect you. It is all a part of the artistic nature of the game. Every situation is different, every day is different, just like writing a column, just like painting a picture.
I guess I’m trying to communicate two messages in this column. First, I think it’s important to view athletes beyond simply their success or failures on the field. It’s really easy to go to a BC basketball or football or hockey game and just see those competing as athletes, but they are all just normal BC students with outside interests. For most, it is really satisfying to be viewed as more than just an athlete.
Second (and more importantly), I think I understand why having a good hobby is so important. It lets your mind drift briefly away from the structured world and be creative. Without being involved in sports or as many extracurricular activities, first year college students tend to fall into the doldrums and suffer academically. They are left with no outlet and are less productive because of it.
Mental health is such a buzzword nowadays, and for good reason. As the semester draws to a close and students prepare to spend the summer doing amazing things, I think it’s important for everyone to take some time and find something that intellectually stimulates them, makes them happy, and pursue that. After you decompress from finals, try something new, get uncomfortable.
If you just keep searching, I promise you’ll find what you’re looking for.
Featured Graphic by Anna Tierney / Graphics Editor