Football has hulking men in tights and shoulder pads, running headlong into walls of opposing meat to protect a beloved (quarterback). MMA features the sweaty and nearly nude, engaged in what is often best described as aggressive hugging. Soccer is the game of the beautiful ones, filled with passionate theatricality and the best damn legs on the planet. And baseball… well, baseball is dudes in pajamas mostly standing around.
So why does baseball have the most horned up fandom? Don’t even try to argue with me on this one. I am objectively correct that baseball fans are the horniest of them all, and we’re recruiting everyday. Case in point, this recent tweet from Lena “horny for baseball players” Dunham, to which former MLB star and current insane person Lenny Dykstra cooly replied: “DM me.” I am also, myself, a horny baseball fan, and I’m about to turn my heartfelt confirmation bias into a swooning essay about the lurid allure of the boys of summer.
There are, of course, obvious reasons for #sensualbaseball and #thirstbaseman to proliferate on Twitter alongside pictures of dildos in the locker room and slo-mo gifs of Noah Syndergaard’s glorious mane. Baseball uniforms feature unthreatening-yet-tight pants and the occasional high socks, showcasing shapely calves and a diversity of rears. Hot men in silly costumes make bodies look safe and therefore approachable, casting a nonthreatening glow on displays of masculinity and sexuality. The game is full of many deeply ingrained American euphemisms for sexual activity, with each generation reinventing the secret code of first base through home plate.
I measure romantic fuckups in strikes; I crack up like a preteen when the pitch is called down in the zone. I take dates to these slowly unfolding events, which often occur in direct, oppressive sunlight, and we choke down tubes of meat ensconced in fluffy buns while waiting for something, anything, to happen. On the surface, baseball does not sound conducive to foreplay. So why, then, am I so horned up for it?
The first and perhaps most obvious answer is that the coming of baseball coincides with the coming of spring. “Springtime is literally when the plants are ejaculating all over the place, all the pollen is in the air, everyone is looking to reproduce,” said Dr. Megan Stubbs, Ed.D. She has degrees in biology and human sexuality, and has miraculously agreed to talk with me about horny baseball fans.
There’s a drive that reawakens in the springtime. “Whether it’s trees or plants or fish swimming upstream to spawn, [spring] is just like a rebirth from frozen winter. Generally speaking, it’s a time for everyone to feel lusty,” enthuses Stubbs. Maybe it’s humanity’s way of joining the cacophonous chorus of nature’s desires, or maybe it’s just that people start wearing less clothing and begin making vitamin D again. Either way, springtime is synonymous with fucking. All that green on the trees, bright against the grey skies of April, is surely one of our most reliable markers of hotter days ahead. “Everything is growing, clothes are coming off, and there’s definitely some biological drives that are coming into play. Not to say that we’re slaves to our biological urges, but you know, there’s definitely something to be said about spring.”
But there’s more to baseball’s ultimate horndog status than its temporal association with pear-tree bukkake, and it has to do with language. Baseball terminology has a dual function, and while it describes the game sufficiently, it really shines as American-flavored sexual euphemisms.
“It’s an easier way to incorporate sexuality into everyday talk,” Stubbs explains. “Like having coded words or certain phrases where you’re like… you know what I mean.” She brings up sausage pizza. “What do you mean, are you seriously wanting sausage pizza or is that a dick joke?
“I think there’s a level of discomfort, speaking about sexuality openly,” she continues. “It’s a way to incorporate spiciness to our everyday speech by being in public and not having to worry about someone saying, ‘Hey woah, there are children here!’” Stubbs laughs, and pantomimes a strained incredulity. “I’m just talking about baseball!”
And lest you think that other sports might be richer in metaphor than the daily ritual of the boys of summer, might I remind you of the game’s foundational gear. “We’ve got male genitalia right there! We’ve got balls and bats!” says Stubbs. This is one of my favorite pet theories about penis-shaped objects and sports, that the presence of the phallus encourages our minds to wander south. “Baseball has the perfect mix of the names of the equipment—literally, the equipment!” She is laughing before she finishes her thought. Her point is made, nonetheless.
There’s a silliness in our interview, and it’s comforting. It’s not a stretch to see how a funny little game like baseball can pave the way for a type of camaraderie that comes easily between fans and is readily imagined for the players. I find there’s something comforting about witnessing the intimate and complicated interpersonal dynamics among players that spend so much time together. A little light friendship voyeurism, if you will.
Baseball seems steeped with an amiability that feels polite and nonthreatening. Sure, there are fights sometimes, but by and large nothing happens, and everyone is fairly cordial to each other, given the circumstances. Then there is the old school tradition of having more experienced players mentor the newbies, and it’s easy to dream up fantasy relationships to hang on the skeleton narrative of a ball game. I have bit of an obsession with the demonstrations of platonic affection between men that pop up during a MLB broadcast: a gentle backrub in the dugout, elated hugs on the field, comfort after a rough inning. I’m a strong believer in normalizing touch between men, and while I am also into #sensualbaseball for the dirty jokes, I mainly created the hashtag as an excuse to post pictures of men hugging each other with tenderness.
“I think [watching the camaraderie between players] helps normalize the behavior,” says Dr. Stubbs. “It brings home that, wow, everyone is human. We’re all dealing with similar situations and have things come up in our lives. We’re all the same.”
As goes the quote, famously attributed to Oscar Wilde, “Everything is about sex, except sex; sex is about power.” Which, by extension, also implies that something else is about sex: pitching. The dynamic between the man on the mound and the one in the box is one of power, and by necessity, one of submission. The pitcher, peering down at the hitter, ball in hand, is crafting a pathway to dominance; an out. The hitter, topping from the bottom, must navigate the psychology of the pitcher—what the pitcher thinks is going to happen—while staying true to the technical decisions that make for good hitting. It’s important to know the person across from you in this summertime tango; know their weaknesses; exploit and prod at the places where he can be tricked. As Sandy Koufax said, “Pitching is the art of instilling fear.” And everyone is trying to come out on top.
That said, I have given a lot of thought to this matter over the years, and I do not think that the true reason baseball fans are ultra pervs is merely the purvey of springtime or man love or middle school humor. If there’s something people who hate baseball love to say about baseball, it’s that the games are very long and boring and nothing happens. But that, my precious haters, is exactly the point of the game. And it is my theory that baseball makes me horny because it is a gentle mirror to the perfect agony of sexual longing.
There is ecstasy to be had in longing, but that often comes at the end, and only sometimes. When one longs for something or someone, it hurts, like a charlie horse or milk nausea. There’s a physical component of wanting without assurance of resolution, and it’s as human as thirst. Baseball, then, is a potent tincture of waiting and hope and desire and sunshine and springtime and need and fear, choked by the glacial progression of time. Spending nine innings wanting your team to win without any recourse to assist feels like the early days of a crush, of unanswered messages marked “read” and desperate attempts at reading the signs. It’s wearing your special shirt in hopes that things will go well but ultimately being powerless over the outcome.
But like the saying goes, the dose makes the poison. Just like baseball allows us to see and feel the contours of male sexuality and affection without overt application of an attendant label, the game also metes out parcels of longing for a guaranteed 162 games a year per team— longer, even, if the boys in question are October caliber. When I watch baseball, I await action: a hit, a run, a fight, a shrimp. I can allow myself to sink a little bit into the quicksand of unrequited longing, pantomiming the silent scream of hope without the fear of true rejection. I can allow myself to wallow in need such that I may experience the seraphic elation of resolution. Win or lose, I’ll get my conclusion in black and white. Longing fulfilled or longing denied, there will be no ambiguity here.
Relationships can fizzle and linger in the liminal space between love and loss. Our bodies’ desire for another’s can roil unreciprocated and unfulfilled for years without relenting, a cruel trick of nature with no real solution. There’s always a chance that one day, the ding of your phone will herald a ghost from your past, slipping back into your heart through the hole they last used as an exit.
But there are no ties in baseball, no maybes, no do-overs. If first base is kissing and home plate is sex, the game itself might just be an excuse to let the mind wander; a day at the ballpark, then, an exercise in longing. And oh, how good it feels when something finally happens.