7-1 (??): Marco Avenges His Fallen Zags

Marco Gonzales has never seemed to be much of a star. He’s in no way a typical front-of-the-rotation pitcher. He seems to take a page from the Russell Wilson school of athlete interviews: Say what you’re supposed to, wrap it in clichés. He’s invited some attention with his online presence, but mostly as the straight-man to Wade LeBlanc’s pseudo-straight-man. In a charming spring training video, the Mariners strapped microphones to Wade and Marco, and the results are perfectly enjoyable. But Marco doesn’t do much, aside from stand next to Wade, who riffs and cracks wise with his former Seibu Lions teammate Yusei Kikuchi. Marco seems like a very nice young man, all the way down to his “Oh geez,” after an errant toss.

Last year, Jerry Dipoto and company extended the very nice young man, after shortly after bringing him to Seattle, in exchange for one of the franchise’s most intriguing prospects (sentient human bicep, Tyler O’Neill). He looked fine. Plenty solid. And in light of an unproven Kikuchi and a fizzling Felix Hernandez, Marco was named the opening day starter for 2019. He had looked steady so far this year, getting credit for two wins in two starts.

Tuesday night felt different, though. Marco thrived on an abundance of weak contact from the Angels, who seemed overmatched on the night. There was nothing the Angels could do, it seemed. Marco had a slew of first-pitch strikes, he stayed in control. After a first-inning base hit to Trout and a ground-rule double to Jonathan Lucroy in the second, Marco retired seventeen in a row until Lucroy dribbled a single up the middle with two outs in the seventh.

But if the Angels looked helpless against Marco, the Mariners appeared to be equally inept against Trevor Cahill. The Mariners offense has been a fairy tale through seven games, but on Tuesday night, that all seemed to sputter and stall. Cahill was just as efficient as Gonzales, sitting down the Mariners in order in four of his six innings. Aside from doubles to Dee Gordon, Mitch Haniger, and Dan Vogelbach (who Aaron Goldsmith described as “rumbling into second base”), Cahill kept the game moving, allowing only one run over six frames.

No one expects the Mariners offense to continue to create runs at the rate they have thus far (54 runs in seven games entering Tuesday’s match up), so the cold bats weren’t a shock. But even more significantly, no one expects the Mariners defense to ever quite get its act together this season. Coming into Tuesday’s game, Seattle had committed a stunning thirteen errors in seven games.

When, in the top of the eighth, Ryon Healy made an impressive play on a hard grounder (his second or third solid defensive play of the game), I gasped at the realization: The Mariners had an opportunity to finish a game errorless for the first time this year. A liner into center raised the stakes, but it turns out Mallex Smith is very fast. Another out. Ryon Healy made a routine play (in spite of the unprecedented error-potential percolating from the hot corner this season), and suddenly Marco Gonzales was through eight innings with one run on three hits and only 88 pitches. And no errors.

A nice exchange from the television crew, discussing the 1-1 tie into the eighth:

Blowers: “Couple nights ago it was 10-8. I thought it was pretty entertaining, pretty fun.”

Goldsmith: “I mean, I’m not trying to put down a 10-8 game.”

Blowers: “Feels like you are.”

Goldsmith: “But I do like a pitchers duel.”

Daniel Vogelbach came to the plate, still a rare sight this season, and he did what he was made to do: He parked one over the centerfield fence, extending the Mariners streak to eight consecutive games with at least one home run.

As the camera followed Vogey into the dugout, bombarded by high fives, the words “Funk Blast” dancing in magenta above his head, Blowers chimed in.

“Daniel likes the looks of a 2-1 ballgame, doesn’t he?”

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Marco stayed in for the ninth, walked Trout with one out (who could blame him?), and gave up a single to Simmons after a tough battle. With his starter at 100 pitches, Scott Servais called upon Anthony Swarzak to make his Mariners debut after being activated from the injured list earlier in the day. Two on, one out, one-run game in the ninth–no pressure. After striking out Pujols, he coaxed Lucroy into a ground out to Dee Gordon to end the game. Frankly, it was a fantastic play by Gordon–running full-speed to his left, fielding and throwing the ball in one smooth movement, in spite of all his pesky momentum–and it was profoundly unlike the infield defense we’ve seen so far from this squad. Something new, something intriguing. There will be errors. So many more. But Tuesday night, they got the job done in a close game. Time for high-fives.

Though I’m not ready to fully buy into the absurdity of this team’s torrential start, it’s worth noting:

  • The 2019 Seattle Mariners won their fourth consecutive game tonight.
  • The actual 2019 Seattle Mariners played their fourth consecutive game in which a different pitcher recorded the save (for three of the four, it was their first career save).
  • Literally, the actual, real 2019 Seattle Mariners of Major League Baseball reached their first 7-1 start in franchise history. Literally.

In a postgame interview, Marco said all the right, boring, plain, fine things (“This team has a lot of fight,” and “I’m a competitor,” etc.), but what sounded the most sincere was maybe the simplest thing out of his mouth: “Big win for the M’s.”

None of this makes sense, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun.

goms

6-1: Is this an end

There was once a celebration here. Amongst this tentative crowd, chests tight with mixed fear and worry, joy was here. There might be joy again, but time, circumstance both in and out of hand, have changed that. It’s funny in looking back, always funny, to think of how many little moments combined to change this mood. There is not always one, big thing. Yet, here we are, along our own little path we have walked alongside all gathered here to see the King upon the Hill. There is very little hope here. Someday, there may be hope again.

I can’t remember the last time I wrote something. Maybe it was a year ago. Maybe it was more, maybe less, there’s a way of being sure that I don’t want or feel the need to find. Much of that is due to not wanting to face what I might say. That I might feel again what I’ve been feeling for so many months. About what left me, without having any say in the matter. That circumstance is random and so is love and pain, both doled out as if there was no feeling in the universe, to us, waiting to feel what the dice chose. That there is a powerlessness to much of what we hold very dearest. That there is not always a reason. The coldness of the cosmos owes no explanation. Time has no fealty to you or me, just a trace like a river through our own mind. Of the million moments I look back on and wonder. There was never one big thing. There was simply the implosion of the one thing I had built my entire understanding of the universe around. For me, it was a person. For this King, it was baseball.

I am sure Felix Hernandez feels the same way about many things in his life. He can’t remember the last time he felt sure he would go out and pitch seven innings allowing two hits and two walks. The last time he felt sure the changeup would dive just so and the fastball would run in and out, however he pleased. There’s a way of knowing, but it isn’t worth checking. All that stands before him now is this road, made narrower by himself and Time. In looking back, there seems little to be gained. In looking forward, maybe everything. The past isn’t worth it. It isn’t worth what you’ve yet to become.

It isn’t worth it because you know what else has come between. You know what has filled the spaces between knowing and this current misunderstanding. There is a perfect explanation for why the crowd gathered feels more unsure than before, and it’s inexplicable. In 2019 Felix Hernandez, the King, is waiting to be dethroned. He leads his band towards fate, but that fate has yet to be revealed. It is an end, yet one we are not yet sure of, and likely a bitter one. Some of that fate is perfectly held, quite literally, within his hand. Some of it is quite beyond his control, too. Time, innings, the work of his days, all has caught up to him, and that part of him that made him King has cruelly failed him, slowly but entirely surely. Felix Hernandez takes the mound, a shell of what he once was, but a lion nonetheless.

Handed four early runs, Felix mostly cruised sitting around 92 on the fastball with his curve looking especially nasty. The changeup didn’t stand out, but he kept the ball down enough to be extremely effective. Given the errors he had to pitch around, the scoreline looks a little less gleaming than he maybe deserves, yet he still managed his first win since June 30th. What will get the King in trouble this year is when he starts to autopilot back into the mind of his former self, when his stuff was unhittable. You can almost watch him click into a different, less-deliberate mindset where his stuff becomes very devil-may-care. His leg kick gets a little wild, the windup gets lose, and he loses rhythm and balance. That’s where a lineup stronger than LAA will really tag him if he lets them. It’s hard to admit you aren’t what you once were. However, the pitcher we saw tonight will be more than serviceable in the bottom part of the rotation. It’s hard for that to be the bar, but that is what we get with this aged monarch. Know thyself, look upon your works and be warned.

And so, all of us got our first, last look at our living hero. The questions, some answered, some still left to be, won’t go away. We are unsure of so much with Felix. He is too. Yet we can be sure of this; the King left his throne today as we all finally released the air we’d held tight inside the lungs for months now. He didn’t trip on his cape, he didn’t miss a step or clang his sword upon the ground. Instead he left the game with his head held high. With a lead. The Seattle Mariners would win the game with some combination of raw offense and bad defense. Nobody gathered came to see that, though. They came to see their King.

 

 

Shut Up With The Dumb Tweets

Everyone has seen the posters. You know the ones: it’s a, like, an awful I Just Bought A DSLR And Found The Option In Photoshop To Blur The Background To Make My Black And White Photo Of My Girlfriend Pop Out (I Made Her Lips Be Red Because Girls Are To Be Looked At Instead Of People). Or maybe it’s a dumb stock photo with the shutter speed set real slow so it makes the water blur (blurry = profound, you see), and then you have a line like “Stay Focused and Let Your Inner Light Burn.” I wish I made that up.

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Well, the good news is that Mariners Director of Player Development Andy McKay didn’t literally tweet such a thing today. But you know, in our wonderful postmodern media landscape, “literal” has come to mean both something that’s actually literal as well as those things which are simply metaphorical, but the adjective is too good to let up. I literally died when Dee Gordon caught that popup. I literally fell out of my seat when Mitch Haniger was doing a Cool Thing on instagram. And so on and so on. And so, cue, this:

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McKay has a job, which is more than you can say about me. But one thing I can say is that I have if not an expertise knowledge then at least an Ivy League postgraduate understanding of art history in concert with a deep skepticism of the way in which Silicon Valley bullshit has been used as a discursive blanket to elide deep structural problems in our economy (global capitalism) that can be smoothly mapped onto similar problems in the baseball world (also global capitalism, but with some ESPN faces defending it). I would also like to reiterate that I don’t think that it’s not for nothing that the Mariners are starting to treat things like mental health seriously (as, also, a medicated person suffering from a number of mental health issues), nor do I think that being less Just Play Through It is a bad development for the old boys crew or anything.

What really irritates me is that I know this kind of bullshit speaks to nobody, that it is a reassurance for the powers that be that they are Creatively Addressing An Issue And By Proxy Beating The Other Teams. What irritates me is that I know that this kind of posturing is not meant for an AA prospect who knows he’s never going to break into the bigs, that it’s meant for John Stanton and maybe even Jerry Dipoto to say that no, we aren’t like that last group who favored things like home runs and ISO (as if their options were that or a cool inspirational tweet that could be posted up on the office bulletin board).

I think, though, aside from the furor and the irritation that Mariners Director of Player Development is woefully misrepresenting art history, that what really bugs me about this is knowing full well that all this team literally has to do right now is say the following: “Hey! We might suck but also, guess what folks, you, like me, were so excited to see Tim Beckham–AL Player of the Week!–hit a bunch of dingers, and we know that this might not be sustainable but what an exciting thing to actually sell tickets on! It’s fun that some kids are outperforming their expectations, that this Mariners team is not beholden to draft lists and the franchise capital-D duty that tanked top prospects Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley, and so on? Why can’t they just fucking say that?!?!?!

If none of that is good enough, let me put on my pretentious asshole hat and have a problem with the way that McKay is talking about art here. It’s absolutely laughable to claim something–as many do–like the fact that a big block of clay somehow contains the world-historical masterpiece of David inside of it or something, were only we were able to wait for Michelangelo to come free it.

Art is not a thing hidden in the parts waiting to be uncovered, it’s something that is called into being which did not exist before. An uncut big block of clay will never become David again, because Michelangelo is dead, and he can no longer paint or make sculptures for us to put in museums to raise tourist money for Montparnasse or whatever. This might sound like The Weeds, but the reality is that this is the approach the Mariners front office has taken to making sense of what these rebuilding years are, and to be honest, you should be extremely upset about it.

David never existed in a mountain of clay waiting to be discovered. It was made with some clay that happened to be available to a world-historical artist working with the materials given to him.

Not a single one of these prospects the Mariners are currently trotting out to Save The Franchise have a David in them, waiting to be uncovered. They are good baseball players who might be contributors to a good team someday, but that’s all they are. And that is all anyone–Mike Trout included!–ever are or have or ever will be. When we pretend that there is a secret Best of All Time hiding inside every Brendan Ryan we ignore the truth that what made Brendan Ryan one of the most adored Mariners of all time is that he was good at one thing, and that one thing could be slotted into an otherwise designed lineup. But he didn’t have that great talent waiting to be found, deep inside. That is not a dig on Brendan Ryan. It’s a realization that his talent was wasted by a front office who didn’t know how to properly utilize the one thing he was good at.

In the coming months the Mariners will build a series of clay tablets and out of them they will design some beautiful, sculpted men, some of whom can hit a baseball and some of whom can catch it. But the problem will be that at precisely the moment that this franchise should be excited to sign another Brendan Ryan–a bat-last infielder who can free the spots for the Tim Beckhams and the Mallex Smiths to learn how to tick their averages upwards to .300–they will turn every last person into the Michelangelo sculpture finally designed to save baseball for the Emerald City.

Of course, what I hope you realize is that what they are actually saving is not baseball but their own stupid jobs. And why in god’s name do you care about that?

4-1: Teal Laces

Flipping on the TV on a lazy Saturday morning shows James Paxton, freshly shorn like a newly enlisted soldier. He stands tall and strong as always, but something is off, because he is not only no longer ours, he appears no longer him. Where once was a tall, awkward, good-humored guy from British Columbia now stands just another smooth-faced cog; just another Yankee.

Nate Karns is there, starting across for Baltimore across from Pax. Ours for one season, for 94.1 innings in 2016 we tried to convince ourselves the promising, powerful pitcher from Tampa was in there, somewhere. It was just a matter of consistent mechanics. And staying healthy. And executing his game plan. The next start was always going to be the one he figured it out. Then there weren’t anymore starts. Until today.

Drew Jackson is in centerfield, and in the major leagues no less. A Mariner only in dream; a slick-fielding shortstop who just needed to be held upside down and shaken until the Stanford dripped out of his swing. He was going to be ours, we dreamed, and that’s all a team’s prospects are. They’re all dreams, and hopes, and future parades and confetti and sweet, sticky champagne covering locker rooms. Future glories stored up in our minds, waiting for reality to fall in line.

Brett Gardner swings at the first pitch and lofts it to center, the ball’s gentle parabola allowing Jackson to settle under it easily. He shields his eyes, and squeezes it tight. A big leaguer, but not ours.

***

They are scattered everywhere now. The Mets won on Opening Day behind a Robinson Cano home run, and a perfect Edwin Diaz 9th. Jean Segura is trotting home as Bryce Harper hits a ball almost 500 feet in Philly. Nelson Cruz looms in Minnesota. They did not bring us the postseasons we are so desperately, hilariously overdue for, but they brought us much, much closer than anyone else has in a very long time. Despite falling short, I’m still very grateful to them for the run.

The ex-Mariners are everywhere, it seems, and we are going to see them all year.  They will haunt us, because they are the past, and that’s what the past does. When this year’s team stumbles, as the season’s math trickles into the gaps in this roster’s inadequacies and slowly widens them into canyons, we are going to miss them. As losses pile up we will sit, and we will wonder “what if?” That’s the price of giving up before the end. That’s the cost of not doing everything you can.

Jay Bruce is a Mariner now, today, at this very second, and tonight his three-run home run in the 5th inning gave the team just the amount of cushion it needed to survive the already glaringly obvious issues facing this team on defense and in relief. It doesn’t feel right to me. Jay Bruce isn’t a Mariner. He’s a Red. He’s the super prospect who became a star by 23. He hit the home run that sent them to the playoffs for the first time in 15 years. He was supposed to be a great one, instead he’s a failed attempt at a salary dump. His transient existence on this team exists merely as placeholder. The few moments of joy he provides are ancillary, the good memories an accident of process, loose strands of happiness burped from a machine that seeks nothing but greater efficiency

We are going to feel this way, all year, and we’re going to have to decide what matters for us. Being a sports fan means rooting for “our guys”, but our guys are almost all gone. They’ve been scattered to every corner of the sport’s map, a re-imagining that asks you, requires you, to root for laundry and laundry alone in a more obvious way than seems fair. The Mariners won tonight, and that was great. They’re 4-1, and a fast start sure is more fun than the other, more familiar start. But I struggle knowing what to root for. I think I’ll struggle all year. More and more, I just find myself finding and rooting for my guys.

***

Jesus Sucre is catching for Baltimore. The 2019 Orioles will be terrible, and I imagine Jesus knows that. Like many of his teammates, he is being asked to do more than he has in the past. He’s being asked to do more than he can. In the bottom of the first, Karns spot a moving fastball at the knees to Aaron Judge. Sucre’s practiced, deft framework snaps the glove shut and holds it still, and there you see it: Sucre’s glove has teal laces. He was ours once, and part of him is ours forever.

3-1: Mariners Parade Met With Rain, Which Is Fine

This young season has been a parade for most Mariners fans. Sure the clouds have been crouching nearby, eager for their chance to send the crowds scrambling for cover, but so far it’s been marching bands and kids on their dad’s shoulders and cotton candy and dingers.

Maybe you don’t even like parades. Maybe you don’t trust the strange joy found in the the floats or the old guys in little cars. Maybe after the Mariners hit what felt like their twenty-third homer of the season, you lifted your head to the darkness on the horizon, unsurprised to see it hovering over the bullpen.

Maybe you weren’t surprised when the rain came—drizzling at first with a solo shot in the eighth, followed by a bases-loaded jam that took a perfect 1-2-3 double play to escape. It had been a hell of a parade so far but this is why your brought your umbrella.

The 3-0 start to the Mariners 2019 season has been unpredictably joyous, and I’m eager for the team to recapture the purity this parade-like stretch throughout the summer. Whether or not I believe this team can consistently put up a fight for six months straight is irrelevant. And what a relief, too. What total freedom in a complete lack of expectations. And for eight giddy innings on Friday night, the parade continued. Fans giggled with unrestrained joy as the M’s smacked around the defending champs and their ubiquitous, entitled fans. 

It was a joy, a marvel, a magical display of all we’ve been waiting for this painful offseason.

The Mariners lost, by the way. Also, Yusei Kikuchi looked great. We know his Mariners debut was also his Major League Baseball debut, a week ago in Tokyo, but because it was at 2:30 am Seattle time and supremely overshadowed by the mid-game announcement of the retirement of Mariners icon, superhuman, and living legend, Ichiro Suzuki, you wouldn’t be blamed for experiencing Kikuchi’s Seattle debut Friday as his de facto premiere.

He didn’t disappoint. Two earned runs over six innings. Five Ks, no walks. You couldn’t ask for much more from the international signee in his Seattle debut, especially against a formidable lineup. A wonderful sign. A (homefield) debut to be celebrated.

But yet again, he was overshadowed. The Mariners bats (responsible now for 32 runs in four games) put up six, featuring homers from Mallex Smith (who’d tripled on Thursday in his Mariners debut, and took a 96-mph fastball, in off the plate, into the right field seats to lead off the bottom of the first on Friday), new catcher Omar Narváez (a sharply pulled line drive from the lefty), and Domingo Santana (his third in four games–this one no moon shot like in the home opener: it was a brutal smash that only confirms his red bat is in fact not painted, but stained by the blood of pitiable baseballs–much like the one that landed, smoldering, in the bullpen in the first inning).

Will this offense continue to roll into the summer? It’s not impossible, though no one would be shocked if it didn’t. That’s the joy of no-expectations baseball. It doesn’t matter.

But in the top of the fifth, the Mariners reminded us of their tenuous grasp of fielding when a routine grounder to short led to a Beckham throwing error, pulling Jay Bruce off the bag. The baserunner, Rafael Devers, would come around to score on a double play, handing Kikuchi an unearned run. I tried, at this point, to ignore the flaws of this team, but defense and pitching, they say, wins games. And, well–Kikuchi’s night was over after six solid innings.

Top of the eighth, Zac Rosscup gives up a solo shot to Vásquez, walks Benintendi. Cory Gearrin comes in and surrenders a base hit to Betts. After striking out J.D. Martinez, Gearrin walks Bogaerts and while Mariners fans don’t know Cory Gearrin well, they know this feeling intimately. But instead of a meltdown, there’s a quick 1-2-3 double play. A giddy Ryon Healy (now at first base) can hardly contain his excitement as the ball comes his way for the inning-ending out. It’s a fantastic play—both Gearrin and Narváez perfectly execute the quick turn to end the inning, and in the broadcast booth, Sims and Blowers let their joy be known. Maybe the clouds were gathering, trembling with anticipation, but the parade wasn’t over yet.

Enter new closer Hunter Strickland.

If you’re unfamiliar with Strickland, he put himself on the DL last year when he punched a door somewhere beneath AT&T Park after blowing a save against the Marlins. He’d gained notoriety the year before after trading punches with Bryce Harper—he’d brazenly deposited a 98mph fastball into the hip of the young phenom in a pathetic attempt at revenge after Harper had gone yard twice off of Strickland, three entire years before, in the NLDS (the ensuing scrum just happened to end the career of one-time Mariner Mike Morse). And in spite of this baggage of his—or maybe because of it—I hoped Scott Servais and trainer Rob Nodine would find Strickland injury-free after their mound visit that followed a double and a hit-by-pitch. There was still a chance for Strickland to stumble his way to his third save of the year. Convinced he was physically well enough to continue, Servais left him in, and he gave up a pinch-hit, three-run homer to veteran Mitch Moreland.

The skies opened up and it poured. The parade was over. The drum major’s once impressive hat was rain-ruined and droopy, the magenta confetti was a soggy, soppy mess, floats were flooded and bewildered children wept in the weather while scrambling parents argued over who’d left the umbrella in the car.

Mariners fans added another closer to the list of dart-board-worthy faces who’ve filled the role over the past forty years, and the team sulked off the field with their first loss of the season.

It would have been hard to imagine that this team would be 3-1 at this point, but somehow the loss still stings. And it’s that improbable sting that captures why we keep watching this cursed team playing this perfect and torturous sport. How dare we appreciate a day that ended in disaster? How dare we find joy in such a failed and flawed game? I’m not shocked by the outcome, but it was still a hell of a parade, wasn’t it?

goms

 

3-0: Mariners decide to beat Red Sox, rub it in pt. III

(pt. I here)
(pt. II here)

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The pink glow stretched out its arms amidst the afternoon sun like an eclipse–light on light, bright on glow. Faces weren’t lit as much as they were unshadowed, a low undereye glare, the opposite of what eye black is supposed to provide for the players but perfectly designed to tell fans in a rebounding year they must be there for a reason. It’s glowing, and all.

Can’t see what’s happening on the basepaths? it says. Well, why would you? Look, pink glow, buy a new fun lightup cocktail. It’s on the sign up above. Fun at T-Mobile™ Park with your friends. Uh…um…………Cougs night, or Dee Gordon Bobblehead or something.” Glare is Good, says Gerry GekkoDipoto. Glare is Good.

He saw it all as he stood in line, his printed-out ticket crumpled on acid-free Hammermill copier stock grasped in his hand as if were his pass to get into heaven, St. Peter waiting with scanner in hand to deliver redemption or damnation.

He saw it all inside there, and he didn’t pause, he didn’t stop for a minute to think about how different it all looked in this, the first year of the park’s new branding. The new lineup. He wasn’t exactly the kind of person to notice these things, so the strange conversations bubbling up amidst the fans around him in line– mom, who is that guy? Where is Ichiro? Will Félix pitch tonight? –went past his grayed ears like a peopled language in a newly globalized city. But minutes later he was told at the gate that they weren’t accepting printout tickets any longer. With the line held up, he was soon downloading a newfangled app on his Google Pixel 2, the damn thing the text is so small how can you even see it here on this damn thing wait…is it…no AH HELL now what have I done close the app wait no before they scanned the barcode. just this time , she said, with ticket gun in hand.

It was always something, with Harold. Last time, he locked his keys in the car, missing almost the entire game he had planned weeks to see. But it was different back then, knowing he was going to see Big Papi and maybe Kevin Millar, although he did recall it had been a while since he saw him actually on the field. Nevertheless, he made it into the newly-mintedpinked walls before first pitch this time, barely, setting down just in time to see Chris Sale strike out the side–Mitch Haniger, Domingo Santana, and Jay Bruce–all wearing Mariner white.

Soon, Chris Sale was giving up home run after home run: two off the bat of someone named Tim Beckham, one from Edwin Encarnación, even one from Ryon Healy, who sent Harold to google on his phone for the duration of the fifth inning trying to understand why someone named “Ryan” had a 0–or was it an “o”–in his first name. It was Lenin who once said there are decades when weeks happen and weeks where decades happen. Well, poor Harold sat there in section 201, watching children young enough to be the children of his own ordering alcohol, and parents of children with tattoos up and down their arms like scars and he realized that the real truth was there were decades where decades happened, and that he had lived through them all. He left to get another beer.

Deborah was there, of course. She had given up fantasy baseball and started a new retirement career editing manuscripts for a literary journal based out of Cambridge where she had first met Harold, in graduate school. They both knew that she was the real brains of the operation, but in this moment what Harold really wanted was a refill on his beer, so he didn’t mind the Sox walking in a run during the sixth with Jay Bruce at the plate for the M’s. He long ago gave up the delusion that he had to “explain” baseball to his life partner who had always been one step ahead of him in the first place. Meanwhile, the Mariners kept adding runs, and everyone in the park knew it was one of those random things they shouldn’t take for granted but nevertheless would: the statistical outcome of 162 games colliding with one misplaced pitch to a 26-year old draft pick bust which suggests that maybe, just maybe, anyone could do it.

But Harold knew that was all a lie: the structural lie that gives baseball its particular lure, as well as the inevitable betrayal that comes to all who take part in its fiction. He stood in line for an Elysian on the main concourse while the Sox bobbled an infield grounder from Tim Beckham, and he didn’t think about what this kid was going to do in July because he was thinking, first, that he needed a drink, and second, that he didn’t know how to tell his son about the cancer that was living inside his bones. His phone buzzed, and soon, he was departed with nine dollars.

The sun was setting by the time he got back to his seat, and he kissed Deborah on the side of her head as he spilled a little of his overfull beverage on the side of her jacket. Clumsy Harold. Were they in their twenties it might be A Thing, but they both laughed, and watched as the sun began to set behind the flags in left field they both knew would switch positions daily for the next sixth months, as if any given day their relative order meant anything permanent, at all, whatsoever, as if time ever ceased its endless march to let a moment sit still. Then Domingo Santana hit a home run.

As the game wound down, Harold wasn’t upset about the new pink lights or the strange sign up above that didn’t quite seem to fit the aesthetic of the brick additions to the postmodern park that many consider to be one of baseball’s crown jewel cathedrals. He didn’t think about missing Robinson Canó or ask where Kevin Millar was, because he had given up on thinking about those things a long time ago. Instead, he handed Deborah some napkins for her jacket and took a sip of his pilsner, smelling the crisp spring air and feeling the wool from his socks on his feet that used to irritate him, their itch, and he welcomed the feeling because he knew that feeling something, anything, even an itch, was one of the most miraculous events in the history of the universe.

After the game, he was funneled out of T-Mobile Park with the rest of the masses like cattle. He overheard various conversations about what kind of hope this Beckham kid might embody, what prospects Encarnación could bring in August, or if Félix had enough to survive until June. He heard these words and they went straight through him, around him and past him as he moved through space and time, his feet measuring the concrete distance between the plastic seat he had just sat in and his parked car next door in the parking garage. He thought about telling those kids the secret that he had discovered, why he had been thinking of other things, but decided against it knowing full well that they would, if willing, find it themselves if they managed to live that long. He wished he could tell them what it means to make a moment mean simultaneously everything and nothing, and how to live with that contradiction.

He wished they could know, but he knew that someday, they would, and that for now, he had to get to his Acura before the garage closed.

Boys Into Men

Two moments, two boys, two men, two futures, and one choice

It is Thursday, and Michigan State is losing to Bradley. Because college sports is the least regulated (and not coincidentally most wildly corrupt) institution in major American sports it’s easy for gross inequalities to form and widen. Michigan State and Bradley sit upon opposite sides of this now gaping chasm, and let’s just say Bradley shouldn’t be winning. There’s a time out and, from nowhere, chaos.

This is a man screaming at a boy. He does so not to instruct, nor to impart wisdom. He does so because he is furious. He does so because once, when he was a boy, someone near him was furious, and screamed at him. He screams because he can, because he has worked for it. His title, his tenure, his bank balance afford him unlimited power. He is not mad at a bad defensive rotation, a failure to make the extra pass, or a lack of hustle on the break. He is simply mad, and all that money and power affords him a convenient target, one so helpless and vulnerable he can be screamed at live on television and the majority of humans will think almost nothing of it. This is how boys become men.

***

It is very early in the morning on that very same Thursday, and in the middle of a baseball game a ceremony has broken out. Ichiro, a global icon whose impact on the game stands among the greats even if he were not also one of the greatest baseball players to ever live, is leaving the field as a player, for the final time. His teammates have lined up to hug, to high five, to pay their due respect for the legend. He reaches his teammate and countryman Yusei Kikuchi, who has just made his major league debut.

This is a man weeping into the shoulder of his idol. He does not cry because he is sad. He cries because, despite a world that declared it to be weak, someone near him made it clear to him that it’s OK. They told him no matter where, or when, or how, there will come times when the effort to hold it all in will not be worth the cost. That doing so will make us hard, and full of rage. He is crying because as a boy he found a man to idolize, a star by which to set his course. Unlike most of us, this boy stayed the course. He followed the path of his idol and, at the very end of that idol’s career, he shared the field with him. One game, one day, one moment shared. When it was over, he wept, and his idol embraced him. Two men, and one exchange. This is how boys become men.