The beginning of spring training represents a fine time for ideas. In Seattle, manager Eric Wedge plans on batting Ichiro Suzuki third in the lineup, and Chone Figgins in the leadoff position. The rationalization for this maneuver is protecting against a void at the bottom of the order. In reality though, player performance almost always has nothing to do with where they have been penciled into the order. Sure, there may be a rare occasion when a free-swinging slash master may benefit from the noble responsibility entailed with batting leadoff, encouraged to take more pitches, but even then, a player’s tendencies usually take time and extended effort to evolve.
The panelists are captivating this night. I am seated in the middle of an aisle with extremely little leg room, surrounded by people similarly engrossed. Many have decided to stand. The venue is a Barnes and Noble. The event concerns the publication of a compilation entitled “At the Fights,” a work dedicated to superior writing about boxing, spanning decades. Mike Lupica, Robert Lipsyte, Leonard Gardner, Pete Hamill and Colum McCann are discussing the pages, along with the experiences capable of creating narratives, both personal and professional.
The news came to me earlier this week, washed up debris within the daily flood of Internet information. Eric Chavez, plagued by injuries in recent years, could be on the verge of retiring. I was momentarily stunned, recalling the brilliant young third-baseman who the A’s preferred keeping over Miguel Tejada, a silky smooth fielder who could slide to stop a line drive with detached ease. Chavez tantalized with Hall of Fame talent, combining thunderous power at the plate with a keen eye. He was delivering, before being derailed. Luck plays a part in the formation of long lasting stars, and Chavez faded far too quickly. My mind considered the similar fate of Mark Mulder, a supremely gifted left-handed ace. Mulder possessed the icy mound presence of Tom Glavine, could make his pitches dart with precision. After being dealt by the A’s to the Cardinals, Mulder was devastated by arm woes, intermittently appearing in recent seasons, he too a burnt bulb.
“Everything passes, everything changes, just do what you think you should do.” – Bob Dylan, — To Ramona
The blank page is a void we must fill.
The empty stadium is a palace we must glorify.
The abandoned, snow-dusted field is just cause for melancholy.
I saw a great movie once, one line always stuck out, more than the others. “Nature’s cruel, Staros.”
Nature’s cruel. The two characters talking represent the dualistic nature of man. Yeah, two thumbs up.
Of rhythmic strings and a bleeding syringe, baseball is often a paradox. The basic game is regulated chaos, carefully confined performance art often disguised in metaphor by swooning scribes drowning in reverie*. This is a show, a worthwhile exhibition, unrehearsed and unpredictable human drama preferably played out under a blazing sun. If our overall perspective were more precise, the importance of this particular athletic endeavor would be properly measured within a rational context, damn good entertainment, and nothing more. Alas… there are heroes to deify and villains to crucify, a snap response to the unavoidable entwinement of sports and reality. And while newspaper columnists breathe fire from a disintegrating perch, our heads are left spinning. There is a point they are missing, subtle and beyond their indignation, except we ourselves are unable to articulate it. All we know is… as they instruct us to wallow in pointless anger and meaningless disgust; the grief never touches the game. And that is the point.
It’s the game.
It was Nas who once said, “It’s a dirty game, is any man worthy of fame?” You could argue whether or not Nas has ever lived up to the amazing level of potential he exhibited on “Illmatic”, [I kind of want to forget the Escobar era myself] but the brilliance of that line could never be disputed. It is a dirty game. And is any flawed human being really worthy of fame?
Society relishes the defilement of plastic deities. After all, the mob has to feel power over something. Everything else is beyond us… war… the economy… poverty… bailouts… Indignation flies, but it’s fake, and if legitimate, certainly misguided. Flaming pitchforks. Adulation turns poisonous at a moment’s notice. Fame is equal parts a blessing or a burden. It’s complicated, everything is, and we wish it weren’t. So we exercise our defenses, simplify and attack. When the fairy tale doesn’t offer a happy ending, the book is torn to shreds. We find something new to dream on…
Get this. Michael Vick, a superstar quarterback in the National Football League, pulling down an obscene amount of coin to play a game he probably loves, could lose his career because he made sport of watching dogs kill, and die. Good fun for deranged folk. Maybe I’m a hard judge. I never understood the appeal of blowing a deer’s brains out, either.
This whole saga becomes more incredibly warped as the days bleed away. Vick was becoming the face of an unstoppable corporate monster that has no parallel in American sport. He was on the cover of videogames, shouted out in rap songs. He was a celebrity nationwide, but an icon in Atlanta, a virtual deity to a community ready to elevate a new hero, all their own. He was obsessed over. Could he ever master the west coast offense? Would the Falcons provide him with a true number one receiver? This was important business, the evaluation of a prodigy. Now, he is a problem. For fans, for journalists, for the league he starred for. And he isn’t going away.
Well, we have survived another year. Many things have changed, but most fire hydrants remain the same, at least where I live. I will be going out and getting drunk on this grand day. When the masses drink, I join. Who am I to question this sweet ritual?
I do not relish being out and about during the holidays. The bar is crowded. The garden variety alcoholic is more apt to throw hands, and why the hell not, it’s a special occasion. Every girl seems to have a boyfriend, and the couples are so damn happy. Bastards. I see bizarre styles, and wonder in vain if I could pull off those funky 2009 shades. No way in hell, I realize, no way in hell. And there’s always this lonely former Army lieutenant named Dan, sitting by himself in a wheelchair, covered in confetti and staring straight ahead, perhaps still lost in the jungle… Maybe he’d feel better if he were wearing a top hat.
Ah… all this useless and pointless knowledge. My brain is absolutely inundated with the memory of games and players gone by. We are a society obsessed with the present. I figure this a rare victory for logic, since there is no real sense dwelling in the past, or a future that never occurred.
Ah, baseball optimism. It springs eternal in those endless, freezing winter months. Here were my prognostications regarding the 2008 Yankees, surely bound for glory, before cruel reality could intervene. Hindsight wisdom located within parenthesis. Special props to Fire Joe Morgan, the forerunners of this journalistic style… I guess. Whatever.