Jason Grilli is not a Blue Jay anymore. With how poor Grilli’s performance this season was, the writing had been on the wall for months – punctuated first by the Yankees’ four-homer inning earlier this month and then given a final, sad exclamation point by the calamitous bottom of the 9th in Kansas City last weekend. By Tuesday afternoon, all that was left of him was an empty locker, and some words of encouragement for those who remained.
Parting message for one & all… pic.twitter.com/TN4Uxy0Ptr
— Hazel Mae (@thehazelmae) June 27, 2017
Grilli’s short, intense rise and fall with the Jays is a vivid illustration of uncertainty. A year ago, he was a godsend, a steadying presence in a beleaguered bullpen; this year, he became the one doing much of the beleaguering. And he has had somewhat of an unpredictable career. He only became a major league regular at the age of 29 and since then has played for six different teams. He’s had very bad years sandwiched around very good years, and vice versa. He had a year where he lost six games with a 2.91 ERA, and though he has pitched twelve scoreless postseason innings, he gave up nine home runs in 20.2 innings this season. Success has come and gone and come again for Grilli.
The game, however, has not. The teams, the seasons, the sport – all continue onward while individual players fade away. Grilli may no longer be in the fight, at least not in the way he’s known it for the past year, on this team, in this town. But the fight remains. The fight always remains.
Other than Jason Grilli’s departure, the hottest topic in Blue Jays baseball this week has been mental illness. On Saturday, there was the disclosure of Roberto Osuna’s anxiety issues; on Wednesday, umpire John Tumpane prevented a woman from committing suicide on the Roberto Clemente Bridge near PNC Park. Neither anxiety nor depression are normal topics of conversation on baseball broadcasts, but this week they were everywhere, on every outlet.
The collision of worlds was strange for me, not because the intersection of baseball and mental illness was unfamiliar, but rather the opposite. My experience of baseball as an adult has been inseparable from my experience of mental illness. The 2015 Jays were instrumental in pulling me out of the single worst depressive episode of my life. While I’ve never been quite that bad since then, baseball is something I would feel pretty lost without.
It hit close to home when Osuna said that it’s when he’s outside of baseball that he feels “weird and a little bit lost,” not when he’s in the high-pressure game situations in which he normally pitches. It hit even closer reading Tumpane’s account of the woman he grabbed from the bridge. “You’ll forget me tomorrow,” she told him, with calm assurance that her life was so insubstantial that even its memory would dissipate in a matter of hours. It’s a feeling that’s hard to convey accurately unless you have, at some point, been dangling your feet from the railing of some bridge.
Everyone experiences depression differently, but for me it’s akin to being slowly suffocated in a box that has been pumped full of smog. Nothing feels like anything. Things that normally mark the passage of time, like hunger and sleep, are impossible to differentiate from the empty ache that replaces every other feeling. You have no object permanence; friends who are not immediately in front of you seem as far away as if you hadn’t seen them for twenty years. And past achievements, no matter how real they might be, are consumed by nothingness. Wants and needs and goals grow ever more distant, until they disappear entirely. There is nothing certain, nothing fixed.
Not baseball, though. Much is made of baseball’s unpredictability, but the unpredictability of the sport lies in the fact that it is composed of human actions, which are inherently uncertain. Baseball itself, the game, the way it operates, is incredibly regular. It has existed in pretty much the same form for over a century. It has a schedule to which it adheres. It has a distinct, deliberate rhythm. It has rules which change rarely, and even then only after the passage of time. Each game unfolds as variations upon the same basic theme, moving in circles like clockwork, much as games did a hundred years ago and much as they probably will a hundred years from now. I can go to sleep knowing that when I wake up, the Jays will still exist, and that they’ll be facing the Red Sox with the first pitch scheduled for 7:07 PM Eastern, and that they’ll be playing the same game the same way that they’ve always played it. Only in extreme circumstances will this arrangement change even slightly. It’s as good as inscribed in stone.
The regularity and certainty of baseball feel concrete. I struggle to look visualize a future, years on down the road, where I am alive. But I can look to tomorrow. There’s baseball tomorrow.
It was serendipitous, then, that Grilli’s exhortation to stay in the fight, three exclamation points, came the same week as the great baseball mental illness discussion of 2017. Not in the sense that #StayInTheFight is a good slogan for my troubles with staying alive and operational. I really wish it were – I wish could say that I am fighting depression; that I am battling. That would be satisfying. That would have the implication of progress, of an ongoing struggle towards a goal. But it’s not accurate. I don’t feel like I’m fighting depression – I feel like I am depression. And depression doesn’t progress in a satisfying way. Depression goes nowhere. Depression is nothing.
Baseball, though, is something. That’s what Grilli’s words reminded me of. When things start to unravel, when I feel myself sliding back into despair, baseball still marches on. The Jays keep on playing. And far more important than whether or not the Jays win or lose, it’s the game itself, the familiar shape of the diamond, the ritual of it all, the fight – striving toward an endpoint which is always achievable, if sometimes unlikely. Baseball is a solid, unmoving certainty, and I am holding on for dear life.
I started crying out of sheer relief as I watched Roberto Osuna close out Wednesday’s win against the Orioles. He struck out Mark Trumbo, and I realized, all of a sudden, that for the first time all day I was focusing on something other than how terrible I felt.
Osuna pitched beautifully. The Jays won. It felt good.
The 2017 Blue Jays haven’t been a good team. They probably will continue not to be a good team – I mean, they got shut out by Ubaldo Jimenez – but they’re not out of it yet. The Jays of the future might be good, or they might not be; they might feature names I already know now, or they might not. I might become a better person, achieve goals worth achieving, sleep regularly and live well and no longer feel lost. Then again…
Today, the Blue Jays play the Red Sox, with the first pitch scheduled for 7:07 PM.
The fight goes on.
Lead Photo © Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports