The Purge is upon us. As of late, I’m my own personal fire sale; if I’ve not used or smiled upon something in the pretty-much immediate past, out it goes. I would be a very effective, very hated baseball team owner.

This is a massive personality shift. Blue collar kids raised by generations of Germans do not purge. Somebody could use that broken-off snow shovel. The overwhelming majority of our furniture is hand-me-downs, leftovers from bachelor/ettehood, and whatever Walmart had on sale. But still. What if I need it?

This is why the trade deadline is so painful for baseball fans, who, in the end, have nothing to say in the matter. Our teams are making bets on future performances, balancing need and promise with sentiment and older-player calm.

Josh The PIlot and I are moving again some more– still in town, but from a little house to a little apartment. There will be one medium-sized bedroom instead of three tiny ones; one bathroom and two sinks instead of two bathrooms and a lot more doors to slam. (I used to think that a single-toilet residence was a nonstarter for a family of more than one, but as we found out the very very very unpleasant way, the secret is to make sure only one person is drunk at a time.)

We’ve done this before, which is how we’re able to do it without devolving into a cicada carcass-flinging fight show. I don’t mean we’ve moved before; that’s an old skill– I mean the matter of downsizing from a house to a hallway. It is a horrific process, but the outcome tends to prompt a spectacular life reassessment.

The first time this happened, we shifted from Mobile to Myrtle Beach, which meant quite the change in property values, and I was sending crap to the curb in boxes provided by a friend who outfitted yachts for a living. These boxes were the size of my first dorm room, true gems; if I had boxes like these to play in as a child, I would have never coveted the neighbor’s Atari.

There still weren’t enough. And I can barely remember what we pitched, there during our final night in town in the dregs of the Alabama humidity, let alone miss it.

There are always baseball offloads we regret– others we look at with an immediate cringe or trace back to a long, slow payoff. Sometimes we don’t truly know how to react until long after the scorecards are stacked.

I’m a sucker for history and a weepy sentimentalist, a deeply dangerous combination for someone trying to convince herself to chuck the free pen from the bank we used four banks ago and doesn’t particularly work properly anymore. Pitch the little rocks gathered in Colorado to remind me of the big rocks I so dearly love? No. Let go of the pop can one of my high school friends decorated as a good-luck send off to the state Mock Trial championship? Absolutely not.

But the trunk that just kind of sits there looking sad but I’ve hung onto because I don’t want to hurt its feelings? Bye.

What’s changed? I didn’t get famous and I’m tired of dusting. The public has not yet demanded the Mary Beth Ellis Birthplace National Park and Dark Chocolate Factory and I am going to have to be okay with that. Moving our mother last year, plus the restless existence I’ve built of calling at least 28 different addresses home, has refocused my definition of “necessary.”

The yoga mat is necessary. The magnet reading YAY! YOGA! is not.

Representative objects of a larger cluttery truth are key. What am I doing with eighteen pictures of my college’s main administration building? It’s obscene. I picked a Grand Taco winner for the living room and distributed the rest to fellow alumnae. They’re happy, I’m happy, our future landlord who has to assess the holes in the wall we’ll leave behind one day is happy.

For a team to make wise acquisitions, it must first know its needs. This catcher is a dear child but we need a shortstop. That relief pitcher was expensive but we need another, better, more expensive starting pitcher. It’s a matter of knowing where the family will sit at Thanksgiving, and in what order.

I once watched a documentary about minimalism that included a heat map study of a typical American household, and guess where we hang out? In the kitchen and TV areas. Sometimes in our rooms. A bit in dining areas. Almost never in the storage spaces or formal foyers. These spaces are, largely, just space. I have become fine with not having that space.

One of the minimalists in the documentary mentioned that when he moved out on his own, he dashed about trying to find a table runner, because there was one in his house as he grew up, and so of course he would need one too. He never considered that a table runner might be great for the big family with the decorating-bent mom down the block, but he as a single dude who just wanted to chill with his Playstation might not necessarily need one.

When a team is overflowing with what it thought it needed two seasons ago but hangs on and on because of fan reaction or jersey sales, sometimes it pays to screw our eyes shut and get minimalistic about the roster.

This matter of simply not assuming that I need what I have is convicting, obvious, embarrassing, and a consequence of living in the most abundant nation in the history of the world. Of course I would hang onto every Christmas ornament accumulated since birth and this third hammer that seemed to gestate from the other two hammers we also barely used. These were mine, and why give away something perfectly good that I might need? And, of course, you might need three hammers even though I don’t. And I might not need three hammers right here in June of 2021, but that could change in a decade. It can stop you cold.

Don’t let go of that centerfielder– we might need him for the pennant race we maybe kinda probably not but perhaps might be in.

What do we need? What do we not? I need a place to type and a wide floor to stretch out on after all the typing, because thinking makes me hunchy. You might need fourteen acres and a beehive atop a gazebo. It’s all cool.

What I do not need is all this crap, or the assumptions about my life as I accumulated it. When we got married, I was preparing to join Josh in Northern Virginia, and expected a long and storied career as a DC society hostess and columnist. So I wedding-registered like a 1957 Mercury astronaut wife.

We were in Oklahoma and sharing a house with two single dudes before the first set of taper candles burned down. It took a few more moves to come to terms with the fact that I, a person who pretty much hates other people, was probably not going to get much use out of this punch bowl and its two dozen little cups.

And so:  Toss. Toss. Toss. It’s the first athletic endeavor I’m kind of good at.

Technology helps. I take photos of baby blankets which I am told were mine, but of which I have no memory; crappy grade school art is scanned and cosigned to the dustbin of crayon history. Newspapers preserved from major events are all online. Books now available for free via Kindle library loan go straight into the car trunk. Books I’ve been toting around since high school. Books that are nutritious but yeaaaaaahhhh,if I haven’t gotten to them since 1995, chances are slender that I’ll crack them open anytime before 2022.

The backbone of purging is brutal honesty about broken dreams, changing priorities, and personal flaws. So we hate it.

Now, people are not books or rocks or terrible attempts at drawing a tree at the age of five. But streamlined thinking in baseball is freeing.

That’s because making informed decisions about keeping and letting go is also a matter of making room for what is needed– or wanted, anyway. I didn’t need this giant desk that was eating the entire room I was using for my office, so I switched to a tiny flip-down surface and a small raised table with a walking treadmill, purchased through a long and incremental campaign of Amazon gift card acquisition. Now I type Dissatisfied Customer emails and stupid tweets at 1.5 miles an hour, and it’s great.

My husband is a bit behind me in thickening the walls of his heart to what’s needed and what’s not, and he fretted about what to do with the footlocker he’s dragged with him since college: “Do I donate it? I need to look in there and remind myself of what I put in it three years ago when we last moved,” he said.

“You just answered your own question,” I told him, and hurled another 700-page book about the helmet visors of the Byzantine Era out the window.

I’m just an English teacher. I don’t know what this team needs. I can think of a few things MLB needs that have nothing to do with position players, some of which also happen to involve a whole lot of letting go of what seemed necessary and important at the time.

It’s something we all need to figure out for ourselves.

20 Responses

  1. Rednat

    Mary Beth. I think this has been your finest piece. thank you for sharing your life experiences.

    as far as the reds. no way would I trade one position player right now. this team is too fun. i have confidence in Johnson and Bell to turn this bullpen around!

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Thanks so much! 🙂 Good thing the season is a long one.

  2. Mike

    Great stuff Mary Beth. I think the Reds should trade all the people I personally think are overrated by others and only target those souls who are underappreciated and will perform better once they’re here. How hard can that be?

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Many thanks.
      I think that’s not too much too ask! (although the Top Gear/Grand Tour guys always know what happens when someone asks “How hard can it be?!…”)

  3. Jeffery

    We have Jessie Winker Jonathan India Tyler Stephenson….Tyler Mahle. ..that is 4 players….so ummm….full roster much more than that.

  4. RedsGettingBetter

    We need Castellini spending some money, not too much, landing a closer and a decent SS…

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Still with the shortstop problems! Chad tried to tell them!

  5. Votto4life

    My Mother turns 90 years old in a couple of weeks. She is disabled so her whole world is a small bedroom and a 45” TV.

    My mom had absolutely zero interest in baseball her entire life. For some reason, last year, she became an enthusiastic Red’s fans. She now watches every pitch of every game. She watches the pre game show and the post game shows (something I haven’t done for decades). She looks for more Reds related material to watch on Youtube. She naps during the day when the team is on the West Coast in order to stay up long enough to watch every pitch. She truly expects the Reds to win every game. She becomes upset when the umpires pick on “her Reds”. She loves every Reds player and for the first time in her life this week voted for her favorite all-stars who were all Reds of course.

    Soon, I will have the unpleasant task of explaining the trading deadline to her. I will have to explain to her that the Team will likely trade her favorite players in the hopes they will have a better team in three or four years from now. A team she is unlikely to ever see.

    It’s all a part of the game of course, but I really wish it wasn’t.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      oooooofffff– I still remember when the news had to be broken to my little nephew that Jay Bruce had been traded. It’s never easy, no matter the age.

      Thanks for sharing your story. 90 and using YouTube?! Impressive! My family was never such avid Reds fans as when my dad had cancer. It was a welcome distraction from certain truths. I’m glad your mom made the decision to discover baseball, even as others are walking away– it’s never too late.

      • Steven n

        We come into this world naked and go out the same way. Everything else is a distraction. Except for Joey votto. We keep him no matter what.

      • Votto4life

        Yes! Her iPad is her best friend! ?

        Thank you for such a great article!

  6. Joe Shaw

    I’m with you. I dont need the room full of books I’ve either already read or never will. And Kid #3? I haven’t spoken to him in three weeks and all he does is play that stupid Bop-It game over and over when I’m in meetings. Out he goes! I’m keeping the game, though.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Wait, Bop-It is still a thing? We took it on our senior spring break trip to FL and it became the BAC monitor.
      Anyway I’m pretty sure Josh takes West Coast trips so I don’t decide to purge him too.

  7. Gtown Thor

    Nice narrative Mary Beth. It makes one think.
    I thought and I say—-Ownership is acting as would any major corporation, by focusing on short term profits and accumulation of wealth. Some teams are subtle about this and some get petty and some are just inconsistent. In 2019 a team made some good trades and acquisitions to bolster the team for a playoff run. They did poorly in the playoffs and proceeded to do poorly in the offseason. They were successful in salary dumping ahead of COVID constrictions.
    Worst of all for a long time fan, I can’t watch The reds at all because cable is not available in my area, even if I wanted to spend stupid money on commercials and niche programming. The Reds made a deal w Spectrum that says only Cable customers can watch the reds live!!!!
    Are any kids without cable watching reds games? The future of the game be ignored.
    Sorry for the rant

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      We’re here for the rants. It’s okay 🙂 Good point regarding the fact that some teams do this subtly better than others.

  8. Scott C

    I would never have put downsizing and baseball in the same thought pattern but you have really hit it out of the park with this article. You are right on. My wife has always been a minimalist. I, not so much. I hang in to things that have sentimental value. So like your nephew I had a hard time with Bruce being traded. Of course, it was the same when Morgan, Rose and Perez were allowed to leave. My wife throws out anything that is not necessary but even she hangs on to a small pink waste can from our first apartment in Price Hill. Go figure. I guess we all have some things that are hard to let go if.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      thanks 🙂 I still have a nightshirt from high school– it’s older than my nephews, who are now themselves in high school…. yikes…

  9. Mark Moore

    Purge, downsize, eliminate the crap … absolutely love that theme. Love it 4x when I drive by another future storage facility. Too much crap indeed.

    I’ll come visit the dark chocolate factory. I hope it features the 85+ percent stuff and that the tour guide is wearing his Assault Kilt.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      He’d function better as my personal corporate pilot, but I’ll do my best to forward your request.