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I Found Out I Was On The Autism Spectrum, And Baseball Helped Me Through It

It was February 2016. I was in my dorm room at Central Michigan on a frigid night. I was supposed to be doing homework, but I couldn't. I spent those three hours on a Friday night looking closely at the 2015 National League Cy Young race. For the life of me, I couldn't remember a single thing I learned during any of my lectures that week, but I surely remembered Zack Greinke's ERA. I looked up pitch data, paid attention to WAR, and watched highlights. I didn't go out that night because people have complicated emotions, and being social is exhausting. Simple things like making eye contact were challenging, but breaking down Jake Arrieta's second-half highlights from 2015 seemed easy. I'll never forget that night. It was the first time in my life that things became clear. Growing up, I always tried to run from it, but I knew I was on the autism spectrum. 

My official diagnosis (though I wouldn't say I like to use that word. It makes it seem like I have a disease) didn't come until later that summer after I went in for a round of testing. It's a weird thing finding out that you're on the spectrum. I wouldn't call it fun, but it was a relief. So many of my behaviors now made sense. It now made sense why I had to cover my ears when the buzzer rang at a basketball game or shivered whenever someone slid their squeaky, wet boots across a surface during a rainy day (I still hate that sound). It takes time to process all of that. But regardless of where you land on the spectrum, I think embracing what brings you comfort is essential. Baseball has become that safe space. It's bizarre because I never played baseball growing up. It wasn't until I watched my high school team play that I became obsessive about the sport. The flow and sounds of the game brought me so much comfort. And the numbers? God, I love numbers. I live on baseball reference. I love looking into a hitter's OPS. I love looking at Jacob deGrom's pitch data and seeing that he's in the 100th percentile in xwOBA. That's my comfort zone. 

I really hate the misconception that autistic people are emotionless. People on the spectrum are often some of the most emotional people you'll find; we just have different ways of expressing those emotions. The things I love make me cry. Movies make me cry; baseball makes me cry. It's that release of emotion that brings you joy. When you know you're on the spectrum, you constantly worry about being overbearing or weird. I try to set parameters when it comes to texting my coworkers (even the ones I'm close with) just because I don't want to come on too strong. But in those rare moments where you can adequately express your emotions, it's incredible. I had no affiliation with Ole Miss baseball before Omaha this year, but when they won the College World Series, I was one of the only people in that ballpark with tears in my eyes. That's because I love baseball, I love my friends, and I love feeling happy. If you can experience all those things at once, that's a pretty damn good day. 

"You don't seem autistic" is something I hear a lot. It's a statement that always comes from a good place. But autism is not defined by what you can see. It's defined by what you cannot see. Silence can sometimes speak louder than words. I still have trouble describing how I sometimes feel, especially when I'm out of my comfort zone. I still haven't quite figured out people. Sometimes they come into your life and then decide to leave just because they can. I'm not sure how dating works, and I don't understand the appeal of concerts because they seem so loud. But through all the complicated emotions and lonely nights, there is baseball. Baseball always makes sense. Whether you're on the spectrum or not, it's vital in life to embrace your passions. Dive in head first, and don't apologize for what you love. I think it's a big reason Barstool has grown the way it has. No one tells us what we can and cannot be passionate about. Regardless of how different you are, the stoolies will embrace you as long as you're genuine. It doesn't matter where you came from. What matters is that you put your best foot forward. I hope I'm doing that here. The other night I was jumping up and down on my bed watching the Mariners and Yankees play 13 innings of scoreless baseball. I did this not because I had any rooting interest in the game itself but because I love the sport. 

I'm not really sure what's compelled me to write this blog today. Sometimes you just feel that spark. And I don't know how this will be received. Maybe it's too much. You're always in your head when you're on the spectrum, or at least I am. I don't mean for this to come across as sad. I still have a lot of bad days, but I'm also aware of how fortunate I am. Spencer Turnbull threw a no-hitter, and Dave Portnoy gave me a job. That's a stroke of luck that so many would love to have at some point in their life. But with that platform comes responsibility. It's important to embrace that. There are more stories I still have to tell. More chapters still need to be written. Some days are hard, but I'll always have baseball, and maybe that's enough.