Jared Wyllys

Jared Wyllys

Last night, I got a notification on my phone that the MLB app would livestream each of Aaron Judge’s at-bats in his game against the Pirates. ESPN was going to cut to his plate appearances as well, regardless of the Wednesday night game they had on air.

Judge has 60 home runs this season, putting him one short of Roger Maris’s American League record, set in 1961. Though Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Sammy Sosa have all had more home runs in a season, those have been in the National League. That leaves Judge with the very realistic chance of tying and then breaking Maris’s record that has stood for six decades.

We’re not to the point of cutting away to watch his at-bats yet, but Albert Pujols is sitting at 698 career home runs. If he hits two more, he will join only Bonds, Hank Aaron, and Babe Ruth with at least 700. Of the almost 23,000 major league players in the game’s history, Pujols would join company so elite that it’s a list of just three other names.

It’s very rare for there to be two players both chasing major milestones at the same time. The 1998 home run race between McGwire and Sosa was probably the last time we’ve seen something like this. This is making baseball must-see television for a time. A rare thing in late September when college and professional football are in full swing. A rare thing too that we know we’re seeing something really special happen in real time. That we know we need to turn on the TV or radio so we can be a part of a major event as it is taking place. When Judge plays tonight — fittingly on national television against the Red Sox — we should all be watching because it might be the night he hits number 61. When Pujols gets to 699, we should all tune in when he plays next, in order to have the chance to see when he makes history.

It’s great when sports do that for us. When the big moment is ready and waiting, and we just have to be watching or listening. When the “must-see” thing is taking place, and we knew in advance to watch for it.

Life has plenty of must-see moments outside of sports. We know to savor holidays, weddings, and vacations. But there are also a lot of must-see moments that can catch us unaware. On Sunday, I ran my first half marathon, and I knew getting across the finish line would be a special moment, but I also got the surprise of two of my sons running out to meet me and joining me for the last 80 yards or so. As we were running together, my oldest looked up at me and said, “You got this, Daddy!” That’s a moment I won’t forget. I expected to feel joy at finishing; I did not expect the added joy of finishing the way I did.

There are also a lot of smaller moments that stick with us — good conversations in the car while running errands, laughing hard over something together as a family, an unexpected tradition that starts out of nowhere — that are even harder to see coming. They can be really easy to miss altogether. Capturing those requires a certain degree of presence. Two thoughts credited to the Greek philosopher Epictetus seem apt here: “You become what you give your attention to. If you yourself don’t choose what thoughts and images you expose yourself to, someone else will.” and “The fool, with all his other faults, has this also, he is always getting ready to live.”

Sometimes we get clear signals when there’s something happening that we need to see. Something that we’re going to want to remember, and we can be deliberate about paying attention. Way more often, however, there is no signal. It just happens, and we have to be in charge of knowing when the must-see moment is unfolding.

Jared is a freelance baseball writer who lives in suburban Chicago with his wife and four young children who share his love of baseball. When he's not doing that, he teaches and reads baseball history.

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