The Bisons eventually fell to visiting Pawtucket, but that didn’t seem all that noteworthy as the shells exploded above our heads in red and green and blue and white splashes and my kids whooped and screamed and laughed. After the last of the smoke drifted over Swan Street we headed for the gate in no particular hurry to get anywhere, though we were suddenly on the wrong end of a three hour drive, our beds at the other. Leaving, we all intuited, meant saying a practical goodbye to what had been a very good summer indeed, though it was then not yet September.
I’ve always wanted a catcher’s mitt, and this one cost me thirteen bucks. It needed a small bit of re-lacing, nothing that was beyond my meager abilities. The day after I bought it, it featured prominently in a day of catch, shagging flies, a chip truck, cold Cokes, a bag of cherries. There was a stinging grounder and a bloody nose, and later there was swimming.
That an inactive fansite should survive such a span of time – three administrations, several wars, five Star Wars films – is not remarkable. The internet is vast, and great swaths of it have succumbed to link rot, domain scrapers, the churn of ISPs, but most of it remains, hidden only by the great volume of new content. Your Blogger site is still kicking around somewhere, as is your Myspace page. These digital presences accumulate as a matter of course, and as we abandon them they spread out behind us like a wake.
It seems a bit simplistic to me, though, to suggest that The Steroid Era comprises a stain on the game’s history. It is, to be sure, a reminder that in a collision of faith and capitalism, capitalism almost inevitably triumphs. But labelling it an aberration feels uncomfortably close to laying all the blame at the feet of players, when the truth is that the history of baseball is characterized by efforts to streamline the flow of money toward those in control; rest assured that, during the period in question, all concerned were reaping the windfall of increased gates and greater viewership. Baseball had succeeded in re-entering the zeitgeist just a few short years after the labor stoppage which had alienated a huge number of its paying customers, and it did so thanks to the record number of balls leaving big league yards all over America. Tellingly, even though everybody seemed quite aware of the manner in which performance-enhancing substances were changing the game, nobody seemed terrifically interested in doing anything about it.
In American Pastoral, Philip Roth identified a strain of dark anxiety he deemed the “indigenous American berserk,” and the contemporary home run seems to speak to that anxiety, expressing aspects of America’s gobbling ambition, its voraciousness, the muscly sense that to grind a ball into dust is a better and more exclamatory statement than a thing done lightly or delicately.
What made the prospect of him continuing to play so alluring an idea for me was not simply the pure aesthetic joy of watching him toil in a fashion so idiosyncratic and stylistically anomalous that it seemed he was playing a different game altogether, but that his familiar presence put me in touch with the person I was a long time ago, a time and a person from which and from whom I am otherwise exceptionally distant.
Who tells the future Hall of Famer that his time is up? Is it up to the future Hall of Famer to know it himself? That’s what leads, of course, to potentially uncomfortable situations like this one. But maybe there isn’t another way. Maybe that fire which made a player like Ichiro as good as he for so long was is the same heat which prevents such individuals from giving up the fight until they’re forced to do so.
Prior to Ichiro in 2001, only pitchers had made the Pacific jump, which certainly contributed to the doubts confronting Ichiro that first spring. It also didn’t help that he had, and has, a body type more common among jockeys than sluggers. What became apparent, though, as that first summer warmed and then broke into its full floral display, was that Ichiro had a body and a set of skills perfectly suited to a style of play most certainly foreign to the homer-happy American game circa the turn of this century. In exploiting said game’s ample seams and pores, he found great – historic, in fact – success.
What makes Ichiro such a compelling ballplayer and figure, then and now… is precisely what makes watching the Spring Koshien so entrancing. It’s baseball, unquestionably, but baseball after a direct collision of the familiar and the foreign. Baseball as filtered through a completely unique set of traditions.