Thursday, April 22, 2021

The Doldrums

When I was young, I used to dream about having adventures. It wasn't something that we actually did in my family — an occasional half-hour drive to a small amusement park felt like a big deal. Doing something really adventurous was something that only other people did.

Likely because of that, I never tired of reading about adventures, both fictional and historical. I only lived a few miles from the ocean and rode my bike out there quite often. The ocean seemed big and mysterious and full of potential adventures. I dreamed of going on great voyages to uncharted places like the great explorers of history. Reading about them was one of my favorite escapes from a life that seemed boring and unchallenging.

Of course, the reality of these voyages was a whole lot less romantic than my daydreams of them. The ships were crowded and smelly, the food generally bad, and the actual day-to-day life on those big sailing ships was quite hard. But in those days before movies, television, and the internet, back before photography was invented, the only way to see the world's exotic places was to sail there in a ship.

For centuries before steam engines were invented, the only force that moved a ship from one point to another was the wind. Fortunately, there is almost always wind on the ocean, even if sometimes there could be a little too much of it. Great ocean storms were a hazard of these journeys, and being caught in the wrong one at the wrong time could put a permanent end to the adventure and the lives of those on board. Any man who spent a chunk of his life living on a sailing ship would have terrifying stories to share about howling winds and waves that climbed far higher than the top of the masts.

A different sort of hazard for these ships, less overtly frightening if not potentially as deadly, was the doldrums, a permanent low-pressure area around the equator where the prevailing winds were often calm. A ship could be stuck in virtually the same place for days on end; the sails slack while the food and water on board the vessel slowly dwindled away. If a big storm could bring the threat of a sudden loud, horrifying death, the doldrums could slowly bore men to death as they waited day after day for the wind to kick up and take them anywhere else.

The expression has found its way into modern usage. Meriam-Webster defines doldrums as "a spell of listlessness or despondency" and "a state or period of inactivity, stagnation, or slump." As a kid greedily consuming the tales of others' adventures, the doldrums was the one danger that I could completely identify with. I spent a lot of time back then fruitlessly waiting for a wind to come up and take me somewhere else.

I've been thinking about the experience of being in the doldrums lately. The months of the COVID-19 pandemic felt very much like being stuck in place. It was one of the first experiences I wrote about last spring when I resumed blogging. Little did I know at that time just how long those doldrums would persist.

With the Mets finally out from under Wilpon ownership, the new baseball season felt like an excellent way to escape the doldrums. Three weeks in, however, it's not playing out that way. Indeed, the 2021 New York Mets seem to be caught in their own version of the phenomenon. The season has only progressed in fits and starts, while the team itself seems to be waiting on the wind that will carry them fully into the season.

Last night's game against the Chicago Cubs was just awful, featuring just about everything you hope not to see from your team. In a way, though, it's been just a different kind of dreadful all along. Even when the weather cooperates enough for the game to be played, the Mets offense, expected to be dynamic this season, has just mostly failed to show up. I sit in front of my tv with the same hope and longing of those old-time sailors waiting for the wind to blow. But the doldrums just continue.

When a ship was stuck in the doldrums for many days, it must have felt like the wind was never going to blow again. Yet it always did eventually. Just like I know that one day, hopefully quite soon, the Mets offense is going to click on all cylinders, and they're going to put a productive stretch together. They're just too good not to.

An MLB season features many ups and downs. Baseball fans require long attention spans, longer than any other sport. You know that your team is going to be stuck in the doldrums more than once in such a long season. It just sucks a little more when it happens out of the gate.

I console myself that the Mets are quite fortunate to be floating around these doldrums keeping north of .500, even as they're scoring runs with approximately the same frequency the Wilpons used to toss money around. As I sit here finishing this piece, we're about an hour away from the finale of the Cubs series. I'm hoping that the wind starts blowing tonight. I'm a little afraid that it won't. You never really know when that breeze is going to finally come up and take you somewhere better. But I do know that it is coming.

Please be safe, stay well, and take care.

 Follow me on Twitter @MikeSteffanos.

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