Right before the winter began, my brother bought one of those big rubber tees to practice with. You know the ones: black, with a plate-shaped stand at the bottom and an adjustable pole sticking upwards. I think he’s probably used it once since then. The weather, as one could have expected, has not really been conducive to going out and taking swings and our local diamonds are in pretty bad condition. My brother’s been more occupied with cross country season and basketball season and the lead-up to the Super Bowl than with thoughts of what baseball lies ahead. So the tee has remained sitting on our balcony, tucked into a corner, collecting various water-related stains, far removed from the purpose for which it was created.
I see that tee every day, and every day I decide that I’m going to use it. It was expensive, for what it is, and it seems such a waste to let it go untouched for so long. I envision myself hauling it, a bat in my other hand and a bag of baseballs over my shoulder, down to one of the parks against whose fences I used to pretend I could pitch. I can see myself standing out there in the rain with muddy feet and cold hands and just swinging for the pure satisfaction of it. I can’t even remember the last time I hit off a tee. It must have been ten years ago, at least.
Every day I decide that I’m going to do this—that this is what I need to do. Every day I don’t do it. Because the longer I look at the tee, the more my mundane batting-practice fantasy strikes me as ridiculous. I picture myself, an absurd and obviously unathletic 20-year-old, standing alone at a park meant for children, using a bat belonging to a child, in the rain, in January, with no possible justification for being there outside a vague aching desire for a long-distant feeling of wholeness. Stinging arms, stinging hands. Bat on ball. What would the people walking by think of me? The parents with their kids, the passing dog-walkers? What if someone who actually knew what they were doing were to see me?
So I stay inside, reading the news on Twitter. The tee remains in the same place.
This is the first offseason I’ve ever really been engaged in. By “engaged” I mean paying devoted attention to market and transaction news outside of what is immediately relevant to my rooting interests. That the great hot-stove freezing of 2017—18 is my first real experience with this side of baseball strikes me as profoundly unlucky. I was already prone to feeling depressed and listless; I can’t think of much worse for those tendencies than subjecting myself, day in and day out, to the sadness of fans whose teams are paring themselves down beyond nothing, to the anger of those railing against the injustice of the system, to the endless nebulous speculation, to everyone having a strong opinion on everything, all the time. I read it all out of some feeling of professional obligation, in case I have to write about any of it at some point. All the information bounces around the walls of my skull uselessly.
I know I’m never going to write about any of this. I am not particularly suited to analyzing the great business of baseball. I am interested in very narrow, particular stories, the baseball equivalent of Jane Austen’s two inches of ivory. That two inches has seemed awfully thin lately. I feel like I’m running out of space.
Back in the middle of September, the Jays played a game against the Orioles at home. Both teams were pretty squarely out of contention at that point, and it was a weeknight, and the seats were noticeably empty at the Rogers Centre.
I watched, intermittently looking up from my knitting, as Joe Biagini spun an excellent, remarkably efficient start. I was pleased to see him bounce back from an absolute meltdown in his previous outing in Boston, and I was pleased that the game was moving along at a brisk pace. It was just a lovely kind of game to watch in September when your team is out of it: solid, unremarkable, easing one into the inevitable upcoming stress of following the postseason.
The Jays had a 1—0 lead for most of the proceedings, until Biagini gave up two quick runs—one in the seventh, one in the eighth—leaving the Jays down by one with Zach Britton coming in to close. At that point I had to leave my post in front of the screen and head out to a volunteer orientation session at the local seniors’ activity center. I wasn’t overly disappointed to leave the game behind. The outcome seemed pretty much a done deal, especially since the Jays had the bottom of their batting order coming up in the ninth. It had been a good game. That was enough for me.
I walked over to the seniors’ center, filled out all the forms, and as I stood in the atrium absently listening to the coordinator talk about the various responsibilities you could take on as a volunteer, I heard, faintly, the familiar dulcet tones of Buck Martinez. I looked over to my left. Sure enough, over in the TV area, an elderly man was watching the game I had recently left behind. It was now the bottom of the ninth. The man was watching intently, completely alone in the arrangement of chairs; at this hour in the evening, when there were no events happening, the seniors’ center was usually not very busy. The Jays, somehow, had men on base, were threatening to pull off a comeback.
I watched, in the corner of my eye, both the game on the screen and the elderly man’s engrossed expression. He had his hands folded under his face. I hoped that the volunteer coordinator wouldn’t lead me to some other part of the building before the game ended.
When Richard Ureña hit a single to drive in the winning run for the Jays, his first career walk-off, the man beamed. He clapped his hands softly and laughed to himself. He glanced over in my direction. He saw my expression, a mirror of his, and the Jays hat on my head, and his smile got even bigger.
The other day, amid my feelings of baseball alienation, I decided to rewatch that game. It felt just as refreshing, just as comforting, watching it in January as it did back in September. I thought it might be a nice game to write about, to warm the winter up a bit. I got as far as the top of the ninth before my dad walked into the room, picked up the remote and switched it off. I said that there was only one inning left. He got mad and told me I was a headcase. I couldn’t argue that. I wrote about something else.
I am thinking of going to a Blue Jays home game sometime soon. At the end of April, maybe, or in May. I have attended two professional baseball venues in my life: Nat Bailey Stadium, the home of the short season Vancouver Canadians, and Safeco Field, the only major-league stadium nearby enough that I have been able to afford a visit. I have been saving money for as long as I have been able to, hoping to go to Toronto and see my team as a member of the home crowd, and I finally have enough.
I am afraid that this might seem foolish. Not just to others, but to myself. After spending so long living so frugally, there is a part of me that believes using money to do something so purely for my own entertainment and enjoyment will come back to bite me. I have apocalyptic visions of myself a year from now, penniless, cursing my own reckless spending. I reconsider the whole idea.
Then I think about how nice it would be to see some small, relatively commonplace moment, like that Ureña walk-off single, and to look around, and share that understanding with a whole stadium full of people. To share any baseball with anyone at all, really. Sounds and smells and feelings. I keep reading the news, rootless, and it keeps hurting my head. I think I might go after all. I think I might need to.
I checked the weather forecast for this week. Rain every day. The week after that, too, apparently. And then—baseball. It’ll still be raining, obviously. But pitchers and catchers will report, and then spring training will start, and then the regular season. The municipality will send out grounds crews and clean up the diamonds at the parks, and then there’ll be kids out there playing Little League. My brother will finally use his tee.
I look at it, standing out there on the balcony. It’s dark and cold. Maybe I should go take some hacks while I still can.
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