What you see here is a fork in the road. These are two articles I wrote for the Concord Monitor of Concord, New Hampshire. I was three weeks out of college and on a job interview. What better place for a political science major just before a Presidential election year? How better to launch a career of columning?

They sent me out to cover to local stories. I watched local politicians eat eggs and sat very quietly for a police press conference. I asked a question about NATO at the politics thing. Then I went back to the press room, typed up the stories, tanked the interview, and drove very slowly through my own report on the sobriety checkpoint after watching The Phantom Menace in a theater for the fourth time, Schnapps in hand.

For, you see, after eight years of singlemidnedly devouring the career path of a journalist because in those days that was the only way to become a columnist, I was pinned against the wall of reality and I was bleeding out. No. No way. I could not handle this, six days a week of the eggs and the press conferences and the NATO. Thus the Schnapps.

I flew back to Cincinnati and attended grad school instead. It was to be correcting commas on student essays and a decade’s worth of every imaginable part time job instead.

Uncovering these articles twenty years after the fact was something of a glimpse down the road not taken. I stared down at an ad for a 1999 music festival, the alternate timeline staring back: What if I had grooved to the scrambled eggs and the press room? Where would I be now?

This is one of these dramatic moments that build upon the tiny seconds of decision that constitute a baseball game. Which pitch to which batter? How to play the shift? Is there a rainout displacing the game two months down the line and into a different universe? On such moments games, seasons, and championships are won or lost. Ask Cubs fans about this sometime. They’ll tell you all about it.

Decisions of which pitchers to place on the mound, with what catcher, can direct a game for several innings; meanwhile, in the opposite dugout, a sprained finger from a wildly bouncing grounder can alter a lineup for a day, distend the lineup for a single game, and change tracks for the rest of the season.

I suppose this is one of the aspects of baseball that draw us to this game; while a single play can lean the direction of the game in a completely different direction, there are enough innings in the game, enough games in the season, enough players on the roster and buzzing below in the minors to slowly redirect the course of the river of the summer. And sometimes we don’t know it until the leaves start to fall- or even until we assemble again in the spring.

What decisions in your life led you down a certain timeline, whether you knew it or not? I think we baseball fans are more in tune to synchronicity than other folks. Let me know in the comments.

JOSH THE PILOT’S TACTICAL KILT UPDATE: Recently Josh The PIlot was ruminating on color selection for his tactical kilt. “I’m glad I got the black one. It looks the classiest,” he announced.

“Yeah, you wouldn’t want your tactical kilt to be weird or look unusual at all.”

14 Responses

  1. RojoBenjy

    He needs a tartan one for formal dress

    • Mark Moore

      A Blackwatch pattern I would suggest. And the black knee-high socks that go with it (complete with tassels).

      • Mary Beth Ellis

        He knows his family’s tartan (on his mother’s side) and a few of them wore it to our wedding. Plus my best friend was living in Scotland at the time, and her baby had a wee little tartan of his own. It was a lot of Highlands in the middle of the German West Side!

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      But then he also needs a tuxedo top, and then it becomes like this whole thing

  2. Scott C

    I am not sure if Robert Frost was the first to express it or not but that fork in the road happens at sometime or another for everyone. Looking back over sixty nine years I see many of them, some that I see as providential others perhaps as missed opportunities. I agree about the baseball comparison, there is no other game I know that imitates life as much as baseball, which is perhaps why so many of us love the game of baseball. Which reminded me of the movie “The Natural” In the movie there is a conversation between Roy Hobbs and Iris that goes something like:
    Roy: “I coulda been better. I coulda broke every record in the book.”
    Iris: “And then?”
    Roy: And then? And then when I walked down the street people would’ve looked and they would’ve said there goes Roy Hobbs, the best there ever was in this game.
    Iris: You know, I believe we have two lives.
    Roy: How… what do you mean?
    Iris: The life we learn with and the life we live with after that.

    Here is to learning and living with what we have.
    PS: Perhaps the Kilt was the fork in the road for Josh the Pilot.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Ah, lovely. Thanks so much for adding that in. I talk about this often with my bestie, who has a Master’s in Library Science and was working in the National Archives. She is now the proud mama of eight. We speak every now and then of our unlived lives.

  3. Mark Moore

    I’m reminded of the sappy (but watchable) 1990 movie “Mr. Destiny” where Jim Belushi has a “wonder life” moment centered around a high school baseball moment. Yes, it’s an old device, but when you consider the bulk of our life is an accumulation of choices and decisions, the article makes sense. And a little trip into the past to ask, “What if I had …?” is a natural and healthy thing from time to time.

    Oh, and thanks for the Tactical Kilt update. Does it have its own Instagram or Twitter account yet?

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Well Josh The Pilot is already running three accounts between his various jobs and volunteer work, but a fourth for The Kilt is, I think, necessary.

  4. Scott L.

    Mary Beth. I am blown away. I have been writing and speaking about this topic for the last several years. How a seemingly spur of the moment decision can change the course of a week, a year, or a life. I absolutely love your style of writing and how you observe the world around you. Keep it up!!

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      This is just so kind. Comments like this keep me going 🙂 Thank you. Fascinating topic, isn’t it?

  5. LDS

    Contemplating those forks in the road brings to mind an odd little book I read in college philosophy class: The Strange Life of Ivan Osokin, a bit more Nietzsche than Frost. As for your personal journey, you’re better off with all the baseball fans than the politicians. We will disagree with you, gripe & moan about our team’s numerous shortcomings, etc. but we won’t set out to destroy anyone’s life. Many politicians can’t make that claim.

  6. Daytonnati

    George Carlin points out that, “the object of baseball is to go home – and be safe.”

    • Mark Moore


      And it’s played in a park if I recall …

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      That man was wise. And, in some ways, a prophet.