Sunday, October 27, 2013

Sox vs. Cards: Dialogue with Tony Trigilio (Sox fan & Buddhist)

[The second installment of my conversation with Tony Trigilio; this time I'll put it in the order of call and response.]

Aloha Tony--the morning of game three has arrived; it's sunny here, with big white clouds out past the dark green trees, and the sheer Ko`olau mountains we live next too are clear and corduroyed. I was thinking first of how the subject of our first conversation continued into my Thursday afternoon experience of Game Two and attending a rather gory department meeting. And then I wanted to move into perhaps happier territory, namely what in baseball seems to beautiful to behold.

So, Thursday I was able to adjourn to my utility closet for the first hour of the game, just long enough to see that Wacha was on and there would be no re-run of the disastrous first game. That game earned me heckles and jeers from colleagues, custodians, and students alike; I had to duck my head walking down the halls of my bare-knuckled, industrial, needing-massive-renovation building. At 3 p.m. The department meeting started, and I'd been advised to go. On the plate are changes to the curriculum (down-sizing, because we are a “dwindling” faculty), a proposal to end the mandatory teaching of English 100 by all members of the faculty, and (contrary to both, seems to me) a proposal to get full-time tenure-line faculty a 2-2 load (we now teach 3-2, for the most part).

I sat in the back row, my bright red iPad cover noticed by the associate chair ("is THAT a Cardinals' iPad? You mean you don't have a logo on there?"). I do have the logo on my small red Dell computer, but he need not know that. The iPad was open to two tabs: one, the box score, and two, my facebook Cardinals hui, a group of us writers who love the Cardinals, along with some of our friends. The hui promised to be my eyes (or, as Ned Stuckey-French put it, my tickertape) during the meeting. My nerves were singing, as the game was close. For a while it was 1-0 on the strength of Matt Holliday's triple. On one tab he was a red dot on third; from the hui, I got the report of a “LOOOONG” hit. Another colleague was pretending to root for the Red Sox, just to get my goat. The meeting began with a long discussion of the future absence of Bible as literature and all the 300-level lit courses, including poetry (about which I spoke, as I always do, thinking that regular lit courses often leave poetry out all together). Then we moved on to the 2-2 load and the 100-rotation and, as the game continued to be very close, my nerves humming, I spoke up wondering how, if we are dwindling, we can cut our own teaching load. I started speaking (rather loudly as I remember) about adjunct labor, or what we used to be good at avoiding. To make a long story short, when one politically enlightened colleague spoke up to say “we are not a charity” about the adjunct situation, I walked out. The next day, I found my two pens in my mailbox; I gather I had trailed them behind me as I left.

I walked to my office, angrier than I've been in a long time, only to find that Ortiz had hit a home run off Wacha, and my team was now down by a run. So I trudged to the parking structure and began my long slow commute home with ESPN radio on (Hershiser is brilliant, but pompous). Somewhere on H1, the Cards start getting singles. And then: a surprise! Kozma, who had almost got picked off second a couple minutes before, led a double-steal with Jon Jay, and they ended up on second and third. Wow. A surprise to this fan, the announcers, everyone! When Carpenter hit his sac fly and all hell let loose on the base paths and in the skies over the infield of Busch—the brilliant Yale pitcher depositing his throw to third into the left field stands and the Cards taking the lead—I pumped my fists and yelped in traffic.

Nothing of the spirit so far, I presume, except acknowledgment of suffering and joy, but I do want to pause to remember other moments of surprise: Ozzie's home run in 1985, Edmonds's amazing catch in 2005, the craziness of the 2011 Series, when being down two outs and two strikes seemed to mean nothing to the Cards . . . these are moments that make a crease in time. The random chance of baseball, combined with the skill it takes to take advantage of it, appeals to my avant-garde leanings. To pluck a certain hit out of thin air, to dive and stop a ball headed for the outfield, to block a ball at the plate, to do something impossible under incredible stress, oh my. When Lance Berkman was asked about his two out two strike hit in 2011's 11th inning, he responded that he had stood at the plate and had no thoughts at all. He was there, the ball came toward him, he hit it, but without any cognition. Is that not the moment we sit on our pillows for, Tony?

Anyway, I got home the other day in time to see the end of the eighth inning and then the ninth with my son, Sangha. First Carlos Martinez, who later showed up for the presser in turquoise shirt, turquoise bow tie and nerd glasses, threw 98 mile an hour fastballs (with great movement, Hershiser had said on the radio) and got his outs. Manager Mike Matheny did what Tony LaRussa would never have done; he kept Martinez, a righty, in to pitch to Ortiz, a lefty, and it paid off. Then Trevor Rosenthal (Closenthal, we call him) finished the game.

My friend Kyle Semmel says he has a strong and strange feeling about today's game, how crucial it is. We'll see in a few hours. Hope you're relaxing before the excitement begins, Tony. I'm just pleased now that Willie McGee will be throwing out the first pitch. Oh how I loved him in center field and on the basepaths.

More later--Susan

Hi Susan—
I’m writing in the wake of another Sox loss—probably something I shouldn’t do.  I should allow the game to dissipate like a dream you can’t remember five minutes after you’ve awakened.  Saltalamacchia threw to third base again?  Or did he—I had a wild dream that he botched another throw, then I got up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, and by the time I went back to bed, I’d forgotten everything.  This is where I should begin writing: start by forgetting what I was dreaming.

Earlier tonight, Liz and I watched the 1950 noir film Highway 301 with David Trinidad—lots of hoodlums talking trash in their postwar gangster-ese, complaining about “nosy dames” and telling getaway-car drivers to “shove off” at the first sound of police sirens.  Afterward, walking through the alley, the pavement damp with splotchy puddles glaring under receding rows of streetlights on either side, we felt like we had walked into a generic Warner Brothers noir set.  All we needed was a cop swinging his flashlight and a thug in double-breasted suit and fedora hiding behind a trashcan.

Then we went home and watched the Sox lose.

Like you, I want to write about the beauty of the game—those moments that are like Emerson stepping in a puddle, all mean egotism vanishing.  Actually, I don’t know if I feel right invoking Emerson.  If Emerson were alive today, he’d spend 20 pages arguing sabremetrics.  Wins-above-replacement are signs of natural facts; natural facts are signs of higher, spiritual Pythagorean Expectations.  I’m not saying that beauty in baseball only comes from the brush-cut grass and portly managers spitting chaw on the dugout steps.  I’m obsessive about numbers, and sometimes the combination of batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage just gives me a sublime chill.  But I can’t find beauty in the deliberate evasiveness of sabremetrics. Sabremetric categories seem like ungainly closed systems—for instance, I just want someone to explain to me how “replacement” is defined in “wins-above-replacement.”  I love numbers, yet I’ve never been able to find a lucid explanation of how the phantasmic “replacement player” in the “wins-above-replacement” formula is defined.  While Emerson makes the game into mathesis universalis, Thoreau grows his beard and forbids anyone from washing his uniform.  Hawthorne makes an errant throw to third (probably the fault of his ancestor judge who served at the Salem witch trials).  Dickinson rewinds over and over the Fox super-slow-motion shots of the bat hitting the ball.  She pauses at the fiery red moment when you can see the vibration on contact traveling up the batter’s forearms.  She could stare at this for hours.

It doesn’t matter, though, because they’re all buried in New England and they would’ve been Sox fans and they’d be really disappointed tonight.

But what if I really could watch the Red Sox with a realization of no attainment and no non-attainment?  I loved what you wrote about Lance Berkman’s remarks on his clutch 11th-inning hit in 2011.  Berkman stayed inside himself, as baseball players always explain to reporters—a persistently inscrutable phrase, but maybe something clearer now, if, as you say, I think of it as a description of why we sit on our meditation cushions.  Tomorrow, I’ll go to the Zen temple, where the sangha will stay inside itself.  I don’t mean this phrase in a privatizing way that walls off the rest of the world—not Paul Ryan forcing everyone in his office to read Ayn Rand, not Rand Paul braying about the Voting Rights Act—but instead, “staying inside oneself” as a gesture of mindfulness, coming back to the breath 101 times after being distracted 100 times.  This is a thing of beauty—and maybe the pause between each pitch, like the pause between inhalation and exhalation, creates the conditions for this kind of beauty.  Each windup is the breath touching the nostrils as it enters the body; each thud of the ball in the catcher’s mitt is the tickle of the breath against the upper lip as the body exhales.  But maybe the breeze I felt coming from a few hundred miles south of me, in St. Louis (Saltalamacchia’s wild, flailing bat, swinging at a neck-level pitch)—maybe this is really the breath tickling my upper lip.  If so, I need to remember there’s beauty there, too, a beautiful mindfulness like in Williams’s poem, “Thursday,” which ends with the poet “feeling my clothes about me / the weight of my body in my shoes / the rim of my hat, air passing in and out / at my nose—and [I] decide to dream no more.”

I’d planned to write about why we have so much passion for our teams—why our friends and colleagues notice red iPads (odd coincidence, I sat through a meeting on curriculum changes this week, too), or why they text congratulations to us when our teams win, as if we played in the actual game ourselves.  I hope to get to this in my next email.  This one, now that I look back, really was an effort to continue the thread you started, about what makes the game beautiful.  It’s when Lance Berkman and William Carlos Williams stay inside themselves—equally aware of the materiality of the mind and body and the illusory self-presence of both—and decide to dream no more.


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