Meaningful Games Wrap-Up

Now that the baseball season has ended (sigh), it’s maybe time to let the world in on a little secret: the series of baseball-themed blog posts I wrote at the Invisible Publishing site were, in fact, an elaborate publicity stunt to promote The Utility of Boredom: Baseball Essays (available in April!). Diabolical, huh?

If you missed the last several entries, let’s get you caught up:

Meaningful Games: Everything is Beautiful and Nothing Makes Sense (October 15):

Baseball’s timeline is measured in seconds and decades; deep troughs of pain interspersed with dazzling moments of excitement. But if Game 5 of the ALDS didn’t fill you with a desire to risk that pain for the potential rewards this game offers, I don’t know what to tell you. You have to risk something to get something. The cards are on the table and the ante is your heart. The feelings you experienced last night–both when it looked as though things were hopeless for the Blue Jays, and when you lost your voice screaming as Bautista rounded the bases–were baseball’s reminder that things needn’t be believable to be true.

 

Meaningful Games: The Results Are In (October 20):

But without getting too rosy about things, you could sense in the Dome’s crowds, and in the blue-clad folks you’d see all over the country, something new, or something as familiar as nostalgia; positivity, or maybe just weariness with all that negativity, which is pretty much the same thing. Belief in the Jays spread across the nation like a populist movement. Give us change, folks said. And give us a World Series, too.

 

Meaningful Games: Distortions, Aberrations, and the Potential for Heartbreak (October 21):

We signed up for something over which we can exert no control; for faint possibilities and the near certainty of disappointment. Sometimes the reward is triumph. Sometimes it’s only that experience of hope. Sometimes it’s levity, as when, trailing last night by a hundred runs, Jays manager John Gibbons sent infielder Cliff Pennington out to pitch an inning in order to save his bullpen arms for another day. This, if you’re just joining us, happens sometimes, and it’s always silly and strange and charmingly amusing. It’d be more amusing, of course, if it didn’t suggest your team was losing, but when it’s all you’ve got, you take it. There’s a warm humanity to it, something like make-believe, people switching roles, pantomiming their peers, or dusting off skills they haven’t exercised since Little League. In the end, though, it usually ends up affirming why pitchers do what they do, and why position players do something else.

 

Meaningful Games:  Hotline Bling (October 23):

The Blue Jays feel as homey and trusted and safe to me as Jerry Howarth’s voice on my car radio as I drive the 401 between Kingston and Port Hope, or wend through cottage country, or take County Road 23 up through Buckhorn. “The Blue Jays are in flight,” he’ll say when they score their first run, or “And there she goes!” when somebody hits one out, just as he’s been saying it on every radio and in every car I’ve owned for years and years and years. How can that experience—so familiar to me, so seemingly mine—jive with the experience of the untold millions out there who’re also familiar with the team, to whatever degree? This is some real epistemological sidetracking, I know. But how can they be so many things at once? How can Toronto be so many places at once? And why can’t I get “Hotline Bling” out of my head?

 

Meaningful Games: The End of Something (October 27):

One minute it was all happening, and the next, well. It was quick. Then the realization that the season is over and it will soon be November—for my money the dreariest spot on the calendar. It’ll be months before we once again see Kevin Pillar leave earth in pursuit of a fly ball, or Josh Donaldson doing something astonishing, or Jose Bautista furiously swatting a fastball left out over the plate. The season is long and overfull, but then it is gone and we’re bereft.

 

Meaningful Games: Wait Till Next Year (November 2):

The Mets got steamrolled by a better team. Not that that salves the burn one bit. Likewise, as a Jays fan, maybe I ought to take some comfort in knowing what the Royals were made of; maybe there’s less shame in losing to the clear champs. Maybe.

Announcement!

I’m very happy to say that Invisible Publishing will be publishing my second book, a collection of baseball writing tentatively titled Small Offers of Devotion: Baseball Writing. As an old friend recently pointed out, I’ve basically been working towards writing a baseball book since high school, so it’s nice that it’s finally going to be a reality. The plan is to release the book somewhere in the neighbourhood of Opening Day, 2016 (which is to say early April-ish), but watch this space for more details as they emerge. And watch, too, for an innovative promotional blitz that may or may not just be an excuse to visit a bunch of ballparks.

The Man Who Would Be King Felix

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When he collected his first strikeout, as a 19 year-old in 2005—it was Pudge Rodriguez—Hernandez was all braun, firing fastballs like unguided ordnance. He’s since become a fair bit brainier, and notably more virtuosic; Hernandez seemed, for the bulk of last season’s 248 strikeouts, to be several strategic steps ahead of every unfortunate facing him from in the box. On Mother’s Day, two pitches before the 92mph heater that claimed Fuld, Hernandez dropped in an 80mph curve of giggle-inducing perfection. It was unfair.

“The Man Who Would Be King Felix,” for Vice Sports

On Alex Rodriguez

His Hall of Fame bonafides are undeniable; it seems safe to assume they would have been that way even if he’d never applied Anthony Bosch’s weird science to his body. He was always a hell of a ballplayer, and denying that would be foolish. He also cheated, and lied, and covered it up, confessed in a manner not quite pleasing to us, and then did it all again. Fans will say that this is why we dislike him. I think the reason Alex Rodriguez arouses such discomfiture in us is that, when we gaze upon him, we know that he is in so many ways just what we asked for, and that the fault is ours for not being specific enough with our wishes. He is our imprecise desire made grotesque; the baseball hero David Cronenberg would give us.

“We Made Alex Rodriguez Who He Is,” for Vice Sports

The Ballad of Ricky Romero

There is no solid moral purchase to find on the matter of how athletes are disposed of once they’re no longer needed—anybody care to discuss Josh Hamilton’s role as the pariah in Arte Moreno’s morality tale? But the hard fact of it, under the specific little tragedies, is that there’s nothing particularly notable about Romero’s story. Athletes are paid to win, goes the argument. But also: this is an actual human who was paid to do a thing until it seemed like he wasn’t very good at doing that thing anymore, at which point the employer said, publicly, “We don’t think you’re worth our money anymore, and we can’t use you, but maybe somebody else will?”

“Odds Against, or The Ballad of Ricky Romero,” for Vice Sports

Chin Music

When things finally wrapped up without further incident—final: 13-6 Blue Jays—Bautista was cornered by the press in the home clubhouse. “At least I’ve gotten the last laugh the last two times,” he said, referring to that night’s supremely attitudinal bat flip, and the previous week’s “Oh, really?” shot off O’Day. When a reporter offered to let Bautista in on what Adam Jones had said about the incident, the slugger cut him off. “I could care less what Adam Jones is saying,” he intoned. April, remember.

“Chin Music: Orioles, Blue Jays, and the Antidote to a Long Season,” for Vice Sports

When Spider-Man Met the Montreal Expos

Spider-Man: Dead Ball is a strange baseball souvenir, and doesn’t really have to be more than that. Old baseball stuff can inspire the kind of rich grief for childhood that makes adults spend vast sums of money in questionable ways. For those with the appropriate memories, it generates that weird, wordless hum that occurs in your brain when two or more of the symbols of your childhood meet in an unexpected space.

“When Spider-Man Met the Montreal Expos,” for Vice Sports

The D-Train at Rest

There are those whose misfortune gives us some quiet pleasure, or affirms some idle and uncharitable judgment of their character. Not so Dontrelle, who was a mess in Detroit, the victim of injuries and what appeared to be the sudden and sinister disappearance of whatever alchemy he’d harnessed in Miami. Even when it was clear he didn’t have what had once made him so dominant, he still inspired a kind of good-natured boosterism in fans. Something about that smile, something about that motion, something about the blazing memory of what he too-briefly was—whatever the reason, no one who cared about baseball did not care about Dontrelle, or want him back.

“The D-Train at Rest,” on the retirement of Dontrelle Willis, for Vice Sports

Until There Is No Ichiro Left

Since he erupted onto our domestic diamonds that last Edenic pre-9/11 spring and summer, Ichiro has offered a pleasing opacity. He has been a quiet and stoically unreadable fixture in constant warming motion, his unending stretching, bending, lunging, and flexing providing a silent castigation of unpreparedness and sloth. He’s been so constant for so long that watching him decline seemed unthinkable, and indeed still largely does.

“Until There Is No Ichiro Left,” at Vice Sports

Like They Used To

When I say that games from twenty-five or twenty-nine years ago seem somehow better to me — simpler, or cleaner, or more exciting, or whatever — I am, in effect, listening to Springsteen. I’m conjuring a moment Before The Fall, a time predating life’s hinge, the point where The Past drops off into The Present and things cease making sense, or exist in stubbornly unresolved form. They are yet changeable, and mutability can make difficult a lazy comfort of the sort offered by nostalgia. That’s why the best heroes are dead ones.

“Like They Used To,” on the Kansas City Royals, and Bruce Springsteen, and Ottawa, and nostalgia, and other things, for The Classical