Here’s the truth of it: the game makes sense. Down there on the field we know just what’s at stake. It’s a cleaner, truer expression of ourselves. It’s something to make the hair on our arms stand up, something to hold dear and pass along and worry over. But here’s the rest of that truth: it promises more torment and frustration than most of us would otherwise willingly invite into our lives. It requires loss and pain and heartbreak. It’s not easy, not if you’re doing it right.

— “Home,” from The Utility of Boredom



Ubaldo Jiminez is pitching—and Zach Britton is not—and his first pitch to Encarnacion meets wood and then rises up through the cool air inside the open-roofed stadium and lands in the second deck. Encarnacion stands with his arms above his head and drops his bat. I stand with my arms above my head. “Oh my God,” I say. “Oh my God.” “Did they do it?” asks my wife, who is upstairs unpacking. “Oh my God,” I say again. The SkyDome erupts in jubilation and disbelief. The TV broadcast will end with that buzz still apparent, the emotional currency of that place plain and enticing to us at home. It is unlikely that a team’s fans should ever know even one of these moments, but we have counted four. In the morning I will show the children the replay of Encarnacion’s home run over breakfast. I will watch it myself a dozen more times.

“Timelines,” for Eephus, about Encarnacion’s Wild Card Game-winning home run, as well as Roberto Alomar, Joe Carter, José Bautista, memory, family, the passage of time, and a bunch of other stuff

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.

Catching Up with Meaningful Games

I’ve been writing blog posts about postseason baseball over at Invisible Publishing’s site, but I’ve been lousy about updating this site to reflect that. So, to catch up:

Meaningful Games: Drama (October 8)

Regarding the Blue Jays, there is a lot to see and hear and read today, probably a lot more than there was the last time the team prepared to throw open the gates of the SkyDome for a playoff game, so I don’t want to get in the way of your taking all that in. I only want to tell you that in grade seven, in Mr. Barrett’s drama class, I conceived of, wrote, and performed a wordless dramatic piece about the Pirates and the Blue Jays in the World Series. It was called “Game 7,” and in it the Blue Jays won.


Meaningful Games: That One Hurt (October 10)

But whether or not Odor’s foot came off the bag (it did) and regardless of Tulowitzki’s tag (he got him), and notwithstanding how that would have altered the outcome of the game (they’d have gotten out of the inning and then scored in the bottom half and we’d all be hungover with joy today, not abject misery), it’s probably necessary to pan back a bit and remember that this, in all its heartrending glory, is baseball.


Meaningful Games:  Thanksgiving (October 14)

Well fed and watered, sitting on that couch, watching the unsung Marco Estrada spin magic and Troy Tulowitzki send a rope to left field and drive in four runs, talking baseball with a relative, I felt wonderful. I felt sustained. Sometimes, baseball is shorthand for the people it invites into our lives, and those loved ones with whom we’ll share it.

Meaningful Games: Twenty-Two Years

So now that they’ve done this—and to be clear, this isn’t enough, this is only one step closer, but still, it’s something wonderful—you see just how you’d internalized that, the losing, the not-quite-winning-enough, the third- and fourth- and fifth-place finishes, so that all that was left of the big years was a set of memories, stashed-away souvenirs, and a yearning so old you’d accommodated it physically, like shrapnel, or the dull pain of ancient heartache.

on the Blue Jays winning the AL East, for the Invisible Publishing blog

Meaningful Games: Listen to This Crowd!

The Yanks arrived in Toronto this week trailing the Jays by two-and-a-half games, after Toronto dropped a weekend series against last-place Boston and the Yanks took two of three from their crosstown rivals (though Sunday’s victory was less a Yankees win and more a quintessentially Mets-ian bungle). Even those with only the barest understanding of the standings’ trigonometric formulae could tell you: if New York were to sweep, there’d be a flip-flop atop the East.

“Meaningful Games: “Listen to This Crowd!” for the Invisiblog

Meaningful Games: Atlanta

Nothing guarantees anything, of course, least of all the acquisition of a starting pitcher, but maybe it tilts the odds a bit. Who knows. Cone wasn’t actually all that dominant late in the summer and through the autumn of 1992, but perhaps his arrival goosed the energy around the team somewhat. At any rate, they made the Series, flew down to Atlanta, former president Jimmy Carter threw out the first pitch, and Tom Glavine beat Jack Morris to give Atlanta a one-game lead. Before the second game the Marine Corps Color Guard flew our flag upside down, in what was maybe a terrible indignity, or maybe a sweet encapsulation of the relationship between our two nations. I’m still not quite sure.

— I’ll be blogging regularly over at the Invisible Publishing site, about the pennant race and such, from now until the end of the season in a series called Meaningful Games. The first post, entitled “Atlanta,” is now up.