Last night, the 2019 Major League Baseball season ended in grand and historic fashion, with the Washington Nationals beating the Houston Astros in Game 7 of the World Series. I’m no baseball wonk, but I do love watching the game for its deep complexity, and the psychology of what’s going on out there. There’s not a game when I don’t hear of a new rule, learn a new colorful bit of baseball lexicon, or gain some insight into the quirky ways that humans think and interact with each other. This year the Fall Classic was particularly fun to watch, because I found myself rooting almost equally for both teams. The primary objective of my fandom this year was nothing more than getting a full seven games out of the series. And Houston and Washington delivered, with the first-time-in-baseball-history twist of the road team winning all seven games.
But my favorite element of the game this year was the issue of age. Having dedicated my professional life thus far to the service of older adults, issues of age and aging are a lens through which I see most everything. And this year, baseball – and those who observe it – were with me.
The world champion Washington Nationals were the oldest team in the league, with an average age of the players on their full roster of 30.9 years. The second-place Houston Astros were the third oldest team, averaging 29.7 years. Now to be clear: these are not old people. But for professional athletes playing this particular sport, anyone approaching 30 is a veteran, and anyone over 40 is old. And this year, the benefits that come with age shone brightly in Major League Baseball.
In baseball, as in other sports including my own (distance running), and as in much of life in general, age brings inevitable physical decline that eventually diminishes one’s ability to compete – but only in a few very specific ways. Looking more holistically at a person as they age, I’d argue that growing older actually improves our ability to perform. With more years of experience inside the intensity of the major leagues, these players gain perspective. Anything can happen in a game. Veterans who have lasted have learned to control their tempers and find outlets that don’t let a bad call ruin their game (or get them kicked out of it). It’s a long season. Playing that hard for 162 games is punishing on a body with any level of fitness, and finishing strong requires some pacing. The players that made up the two World Series teams this year are a diverse mix of ages and backgrounds, and represent the “sweet spot” in baseball, where one’s physical gifts have been trained with precision, and one’s cognitive gifts have been honed by experience. The New York Times ran a great story last week about “los viejos,” the group of older players on the Nationals who skew the team’s average age up, and refer to themselves as “the old men,” if you’d like to read more about them.
Today at 45 years of age, I run marathons slower than I used to – but I definitely run them better. Thanks to these “old guys” for the reminder, and to all of the players of every age out there for putting on such a great show.
I miss baseball already.