I don't remember what day it was exactly, but at some point early this summer I reached a breaking point. I was still driving my old Hyundai (it has since gone to the great parking lot in the sky) on my way to cover a game at Wrigley Field.
The car had around 202,000 miles on it and the air conditioning had stopped working, and I was trapped in bad traffic on 294. Just sitting there sweating.
I was switching back and forth between music and a podcast, getting more and more agitated and annoyed while trying to occupy myself while I waited for the cars ahead of me to start moving, when I decided to try something different. I opened Spotify and searched "Duke Ellington Radio" and just let it play.
The funny thing was, it calmed me down pretty quickly. I listened to that channel for the rest of the trip to the ballgame and the whole ride home. Since then, I've pretty much listened to nothing but jazz going to and from covering baseball games. I spend a lot of time in the car during the baseball season, and this year has felt different ever since I made the switch music-wise.
This has been a pretty big switch for me, too. I listened to a lot of grunge rock in high school (gross, I know), and had migrated to other things (I've grown to love William Prince and a lot of country), but now it's a lot of Freddie Hubbard, Paul Desmond, and Ben Webster. "Sandu" by Clifford Brown and "In a Sentimental Mood" by John Coltrane and Duke Ellington have become two of my favorite songs.
I can't say what really inspired me to make a sudden change to the music I listened to. In some ways, it felt out of nowhere. But I'm glad I followed whatever instinct prompted me to try something new.
I've had a lot of conversations with baseball players about making adjustments. Most of the time, they are pretty strict about sticking to their process and being patient for the right results to come. Cubs outfielder Ian Happ is a good example of this. He has looked like a completely different hitter since mid-August, and that's not the product of some dramatic change he's made to his plate approach. He just stuck with what he had been doing all along, made some subtle tweaks, and now it's working.
But there are also plenty of examples of players who have made significant changes, and those big changes have saved their careers. Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen started out as a catcher, but now he has the second most career saves among active pitchers. Rick Ankiel was a good enough pitcher to start playoff games for the Cardinals but then got the yips so bad that he had to resurrect his career as an outfielder.
My switching to jazz while commuting to and from baseball games hasn't produced a shift as dramatic as Jansen's or Ankiel's, but feeling way less stressed while sitting in Chicago traffic is enough for me. It's also helped that I'm not driving a car with air conditioning.