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“Sports are like the reward for a functioning society.” –Sean Doolittle, Nationals
Is there any reason why we, as a barely functioning society descending into chaos, deserve this “reward?” My feelings heading into the 2020 baseball season are an equal mixture of pure wonder, curiosity and the fetishization of a shit show. 60 games during a pandemic doesn’t really prove anything and is akin to a beer league or a wiffle ball tournament, and I believe that’s where the “wonder and curiosity” stems from. The “shit show” on the other hand should be fairly explanatory to any purist with a semi-open mind, as the winner of the World Series of Corona will be seen in hindsight as *Asterisk Champions (although slightly more legitimate than the Astros nefarious and refutable crown, but this time Manfred will supply a keg for the after party)
There will be cardboard cutouts in the stands and guys wearing masks sans spitting and licking with piped in crowd noise to simulate a good time; and why not throw a few drunk guys in the bleachers for maximum “realness?” How wonderfully psychedelic! How absolutely kitsch! Do we get pizza and snow cones after the game too? And I think we should all take a moment to thank whatever god we worship that at least one tradition–cup readjustment–isn’t going anywhere. Although ass slapping might still be up in the air because there still isn’t any proof the virus does or doesn’t spread through swamp-ass. Perhaps the players can celebrate with a slight nod and half-smile, akin to seeing your ex-girlfriend in a public setting as your current lover stands there, oblivious to the fact.
There is trepidation because of the naked truth that a few players (namely pitchers) that aren’t physically or emotionally ready will be absolutely GOD AWFUL and will single-handedly take away their team’s chances depending on how many times they trudge to the hill. One dreadful closer or set up man (think Jim Johnson in 2014) and your season is kaput, over, doneski, ancient history, yesterday’s news, finito. As you may or may not know, hitting is traditionally ahead of pitching for the first few months of any season. This means there will be many games that will be high scoring, good ol’ fashion “western shootouts” with pitchers in the interview room being quoted through gritted teeth, “I just couldn’t get my breaking shit over.” Remember that debacle in London last year? Get used to it, because there are going to be quite a few fireworks shooting off with the spark drizzle ready to inflame any random dumpster in the general area.
Hot button issues aside, athletes are not deities that are fundamentally different from us, but human beings that live in time and space. It will be interesting to see how they handle the psychological pressure of competition blended with mortality. Both will grip the continual psyche of all of the players in one way or another as the pelota flies out of the yard and the cash registers sing “God Bless America” while grandma quietly gives up the ghost in the next room.
“Sweet is the memory of past troubles.” –Cicero
My high school career was less than stellar, quite different from Kevin Arnold’s 1970’s middle-class neurosis in The Wonder Years; and it was often a confusing and awkward time for me as it is for any young person who doesn’t follow the rules of engagement. My school was located in one of the poorer neighborhoods so the styles and sophistication of the students echoed that. This was the life equivalent of tasteless, waxy American cheese.
There were minimal cliques in this school–the wannabe gang bangers, (and the real ones) the jocks, the hair-metal kids, the cholas and the cheerleaders. I managed to scrounge up 2 friends, one was a metal head who I had known since elementary school, and the other a punk rock reject that would wear a Dead Kennedys shirt everyday, carry a skateboard everywhere and never let anyone inside his house. In retrospect, there was nothing special about my teenage apathy. Everyone was dealing with the same emotions and questions, but with different parents, cultures, agendas and economic status. There was also a beautiful naivete concerning school shootings: we simply could never conceive of it happening–there was a better chance of aliens populating the earth or Elvis rising from the dead. I was also suffering from a strangulating boredom which I thought was to be my position in life…I was 16 and waiting for it to begin.
Baseball player Steve Sax was sort of a local legend in our little burg as he had attended the only and very same high school that I was attending. During P.E. (my favorite subject, besides lunch) I would stare at Sax’s school records on an amateurish hand-painted board above dented, graffitied, rusted lockers while fights broke out, coaches screamed and evacuations from the putrid sulfur smell of stink bombs were coalescing around me. He owned every single record. I couldn’t fathom that a titan on a baseball card had actually walked these same sweat sock-scented hallways from hell and dominated the very same pock-marked, weed infested ball field that I had played on as a Freshman just one year earlier. He probably thought he was hot shit and had all kinds of bell-bottom clad, Farrah Fawcett- haircut-fashioned girls throwing themselves at him; no doubt changing one letter in his last name as to give him a more studly and epically legendary nickname as his other conquests snickered knowingly with a hint of underlying jealousy.
Sax had a pretty solid career and even won a World Series with the Dodgers until he caught a case of the “yips,” which is a psychological malfunction of the routine play. In this case it was the across the body lob to the first baseman from the second base position. A fairly easy play unless pondered to the point of oblivion. This local hero and World Series winner was fallible and I could relate. I had acquired a case of the life yips at the age of 15 and couldn’t even have a routine conversation without stumbling through it. Girls were impossible as I took navel-gazing to the point of nonexistence. I would contemplate every single nonsensical conversation or see sideways glances as a character assassination. This sort of thought was an unhealthy E-4, something that was scratched on Sax’s scorecard more times than he would’ve liked.
We were worlds apart in every conceivable valuable attribute–with him having all the admirable ones, an enviable cross to bear; but we shared the same thoughts, fears and insecurities that all humans struggle with at one time or another, and with that, the inability to be shielded from the cruel elements that possesses us all.
I think it’s time to decompress, if only for a moment. The events of the past week left anyone with an iota of compassion emotionally distressed and even questioning their own integrity and place in the social/political spectrum concerning the unfortunate and dynamic happenings. But I digress– it’s time to embrace escapism and take a mental diversion by watching and then talking about the most brainless activity known to man…the MLB draft. In the past (pre-internet) this activity was relegated to a blurb in the local newspaper, but now must be scrutinized to the point of exhaustion on any self respecting (don’t get any ideas about this particular one) baseball site. I’ve got the beers cooling and I’m already 4 deep. It’s high time I act like a professional journalist and do an impromptu review of the least hyped of the professional sports drafts. Let’s do this.
There is nothing more entertaining than watching a stiff Rob Manfred stand at a podium and announce a draft pick with the driest, most mundane zombie-like voice that any human can comprehend. Is there an elemental soul in there? The jury is still out if he’s a man, robot or a left-over from the cast of Night of the Living Dead. This is the type of show you’d want to watch if you actually hated sex because there is absolutely nothing on this earth that can turn off a woman more than Harold Reynolds talking about “statistical trajectory” or “cost/benefit analysis.” These guys are actually frothing at the mouth and full of hyperbole about guys that may never even sniff the majors but you’d think every single one of them was the next Mike Trout. It’s turned into an all out pissing contest. I’m 7 beers deep at this point. (hiccup)
It’s pick 26 and the Oakland ball club takes an 18 year old high school kid out of Turlock, a tiny valley town in California that is known for farming, meth busts and the Hell’s Angels that the locals have christened, “TurdLock.” This is a confusing pick because the A’s have made it a habit to take college players: at least during the Billy Beane era. Alas, this is the David Forst era. Tyler Soderstrom is a big kid with a big left-handed bat that probably will switch positions from catcher as he wasn’t even the best defensive catcher on his high school team. The most compelling aspect is that Soderstrom was voted the best high school player in California, a state traditionally deep in baseball talent. The sky’s the limit for this kid. He may be the next Terry Steinbach, may have a fledgling career in the minors, or may be packaged in a trade for a rent-a-player to help in a late season Wild Card run that has yet to be contemplated. Good luck young man, welcome to Oakland and good night. (hiccup)
It’s 104 degrees outside as I’m typing this, and it seems like an irrefutable idea to sit around the air conditioner and watch a few horror films meant for the garbage heap while drinking copious amounts of iced tea. I’m still not comfortable being in large groups of virus puppets, and shame on the people that decided to congregate in large groups Memorial Day Weekend. Ezra Pound was quoted as saying,”Stupidity carried beyond a certain point becomes a public menace.” and he was absolutely correct on that account in more ways than one. The major component in this logic can only be seen as self-serving and uncaring; so don’t expect compassion if you are one of the revelers who just happens to acquire a healthy (or unhealthy. yuck yuck.) case of The ‘Rona. As you can probably tell from the former sentence, I am seemingly a huge proponent of retribution, and you wouldn’t be wrong. More than likely, as life is always unfair in this way, one of the “party animals” will probably give it to someone who dies while their own case remains dormant. I still have to repress the inclination to punch someone in the face who stands right next to me in the grocery store while blathering on their phone with spittle flying everywhere but, hey, nobody’s perfect.
At any rate…the internet wormhole strikes again! I stumbled across a photo of a barely clad Rickey Henderson for Playgirl in July 1984, and I thought, “Gee, that was an interesting year in pop culture.” I was in elementary school and I absolutely adored Michael Jackson. The biggest topic on the playground was: would you bang Madonna? and what Garbage Pail Kids would you trade? Of course, we were all virgins and wouldn’t know what to do with our peckers even if Madonna was a pedophile who was attracted to small town Catholic school knuckleheads who carried aluminum lunchboxes with Luke Skywalker emblazoned on the lid. I stared at the photo of Rickey for a minute and his powerful legs seemed to stand out in the photo for, oh, about 1,406 reasons. The photo was meant for a different gender (or not?) and maybe even a different race (or not?) but it still resonated from a baseball standpoint. Is this what happens when there is no baseball? Are you relegated to watching games on MLB.TV from 2019, playing fantasy games on your phone and staring at photos of Rickey Henderson’s legs?
I think I need to get outside. (with 6 feet of social distancing, of course)