Friday, May 15, 2009

Fall of a giant

Everyone who follows sports possesses a handful memories that they particularly cherish. Perhaps they are shared by millions of fellow fans, but you still cling to them like a glorious, vis-a-vis meeting with a hero. I have my own. At the very top of the list is David Ortiz's performance in the 2004 ALCS. Even after almost five years of hindsight, his performance amazes. There were many astonishing performances by Red Sox in the 2004 ALCS, but it was Big Papi who won game 4 and gave us a taste of survival. It was Papi who breathed life back into game 5 after the Yankees rallied to take the lead, and it was Papi again who ended that marathon with a simple two-out, bloop single. And in Game 7, he delivered the first blow, with a first inning shot that gave the Red Sox an early lead they would not relinquish.

Now watch him, a crumbling, sad figure on the field. He cannot seem to catch up to a fastball for the life of him. As of this writing, he's hitting .203. His slugging percentage is a mind-boggling .293, 254 points below his career average. Of course, the potential explanations fly about like sand in the Santa Ana winds (SoCal reference, sorry). Is it psychological? An injury? Has he hit a thirty-something wall? Is it (God forbid) a post PED crash?

Right now, I honestly don't care. Others can speculate until they are content. I, however, continue to rue the sad reality that Big Papi is Big Papi no more, or certainly not how we remember. Other players have rebounded from disastrous seasons to productivity before. Hell, I was pretty sure that Andruw Jones was done after posting a terrifyingly tiny 34 OPS+ last season. This year he has posted a .447 OBP... granted, in just 83 PA, but still, it's miles more than Papi has shown this season.

Regardless, I guess this entire post can be summed up as a sad ramble about my favorite former power hitter. Watching him strike out twice and ground out feebly tonight, my memories of his great feats of the past seem paradoxically more distant and yet visible.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Get well soon, Jerry.

While I started this blog with the intention of avoiding short blurbs, I want to wish Jerry Remy a swift recovery from his lung cancer surgery. He underwent surgery last year and has taken indefinite leave to fully recover.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Lazy+sick+other responsibilities= copout post

I need to finish an article I'm writing for the Torch. I'm battling a cold. I haven't updated in a week. Here's something I wrote after the Sox' game 5 comeback in last year's ALCS that I posted on a whim of Facebook. Hopefully, you haven't read it yet:

It's Saturday and I'm putting off a weekend of homework. Time for some thoughts about baseball, before tonight's big Game 6.

I'm a talkative person. Scratch that. I'm a regular motormouth. I work on it, I swear I do. I'm much more interested in conversation than I am in hearing myself speak. But I am what I am. My mind moves a mile a minute. I often have blamed my awful handwriting on the notion that my mind is moving faster than my limbs. Math has often given me the same problem: I can understand the concepts without issue, but when actually doing the problems I'm prone to skipping too far ahead and missing minute details. Other interests of mine reflect this tendency. I read more poetry and short stories than novels. When I sing, it's all I can do to keep three years of training and technique in mind once I step on stage.

I'm thinking about all this for a simple reason: I'm a crazed baseball fanatic. I've lived and breathed baseball for the better part of the last 13 years. Even after witnessing the Red Sox win two World Series, I still take baseball as seriously as I did from day one. How on earth does a game that is so deliberate have such a grip on me?

Baseball is often dismissed as a boring game. I defy anyone who watched the Red Sox come back to beat the Rays from 7-0 down on Thursday night/Friday morning to say such a thing. Baseball is pastoral, yes, but like a Flannery O'Connor story it can turn brutal, exciting, and frightening in moments. No other game builds drama so effectively. It's the polar opposite of instant gratification. The wait between each pitch, which can seem interminable to some, becomes Michael Myers slowly walking towards you in "Halloween". The walk to load the bases in the ninth in a tie game gives me the same feeling I got at the first sighting of the Misfit's car in "A Good Man is Hard to Find": looming dread, and the feeling that doom is inevitable, even if the story isn't over. The walkoff hit, or the game ending strikeout, are pure exhilaration after unbearable buildup... and I can't even think of a simile. Any literature reference would have to be compared to baseball in that regard. Baseball demands attention and pays great rewards to those who can wait.

Many writers before me have spoken of the poetic nature of the game, almost in Wordsworthian terms. Please. I've never been a sepia-toned baseball fan. Memories are great and vital, but I'm more for the moment and the tension. Baseball is poetry, but it's more "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night" than "Tintern Abbey".

What line better sums up game 5's comeback better than "Though wise men at their end know dark is right/ because their words had forked no lightning they/ do not go gentle into that good night"? And in moments of heartbreak, such as the 2003 ALCS, few poetic lines better describe my feelings than "And you my father, there on the sad height/ curse, bless me now with your fierce tears I pray." My dad had been through the devastation of '86, my grandfather had '46, and now I had had my moment.

I got the same feeling watching Pedro Martinez in his prime pitch that I do when I read the ending of "The Dead", or listen to "The Tracks of My Tears". None of these things are related in tone or content. What binds them? Listen to Smokey Robinson launch into his falsetto, or watch a clip of Pedro tossing an inhuman changeup. The way the snow in Joyce's story falls through the universe, covering all the living and the dead, such feelings towards different mediums bind them.

Anyway, I'd long promised never to write a George Will-style dissertation on the glories of baseball as something more than a game. In the end, baseball is just a game. It happens to be one that appeals to me on levels that go beyond a need for distraction.

-note: I'm not speaking ill of Wordsworth. He's easily one of my favorite poets.