Monday, October 28, 2013

Spirit & Series: A continuing dialogue between Tinfish Editor & Tony Trigilio.

Game Three Thread:

Dear Tony--

I understand what you mean by wanting “the game to dissipate like a dream you can’t remember five minutes after you’ve awakened,” but one of the lessons I've taken from my blogging practice (funny phrase, that) is that writing in that moment before memory takes hold, before memory-as-interpretation alters the event, at the moment before dissipation, is as necessary as allowing things to sift out. I remember a Ph.D. poetry student saying at her defense that she wanted to wait for events in her life to sit for a while before she wrote about them, and realizing how much a part of our regime as poets that has been. Of course I understand that this particular moment was one you didn't want to write from! What fascinated me about The Play is that it hinged on action and not intention. That the third baseman Middlebrooks stuck his legs in the air, ever so briefly, as Allen Craig tried to navigate his way past third, running as if he needed a GPS, or at least a walker because of his bad foot, didn't matter in the least. My family and I were yelling “interference!” at the tops of our lungs in the living room, and then I remember saying, “the ump saw it! He saw it!” For a Buddhist, intention matters. If Middlebrooks's intention was pure—if he had not intended to trip Craig, as perhaps he did not—then that matters a great deal. But in baseball, it does not. (I love this comment in the FOX stream, from the twitter feed of one Old Hoss Radbourn: “If you can't trip a guy at third base then I weep for America.” Here's the rule:

The act of a fielder who, while not in possession of the ball and not in the act of fielding the ball, impedes the progress of any runner.
Comment: If a fielder is about to receive a thrown ball and if the ball is in flight directly toward and near enough to the fielder so he must occupy his position to receive the ball he may be considered "in the act of fielding a ball." It is entirely up to the judgment of the umpire as to whether a fielder is in the act of fielding a ball. After a fielder has made an attempt to field a ball and missed, he can no longer be in the "act of fielding" the ball. For example: an infielder dives at a ground ball and the ball passes him and he continues to lie on the ground and delays the progress of the runner, he very likely has obstructed the runner.
While the play still re-runs (or re-hobbles) in my mind—Allen Craig at third, Jose Oquendo, red hoodie down his back, windmilling for him to run home as the ball goes into the left field foul area (again!), Allen Craig trying to start running, but tripping over the third baseman, Allen Craig hobbling home, lying on the ground, his face blank, not knowing what had happened, the Cardinals running out to pick him up, gently—the rule has its own majesty. It's about action and judgment, like so much in baseball, about accident and result, about the moment and then the memory of that moment. (I mean to devote the better part of one of these epistles to the role of memory in our baseball lives.) My husband, Bryant, loves the random chance of baseball, especially when the teams are both so good. One foot, or inch, one way or the other and the play would have been made. But the rules do not mention accident; they only allude to what happened. In this case (“an infielder dives at a ground ball and the ball passes him and he continues to lie on the ground”) the rule book called the play, even if the third baseman didn't have time to move away. McCarver and Buck could have called it no better than that!

You wanted to talk about our attachments to our teams; I want to tell you about mine, then open that conversation up to how our attachments to our teams lead to our connections to other people. To move from attachment to connection seems a step in the right direction. I became a Cards fan in 1967 (another Series between the Cards and the Red Sox) when I was on the cusp of turning nine years old. I don't know that I yet knew much about baseball, but I heard about the Series; because I'd been born in southern Illinois, I decided to cheer for the Cardinals. The first “word” I read was the TWA sign at St. Louis's airport, where we'd drive my dad, who traveled a lot since he was in the Air Force. So there's also a linguistic tie. When a friend said she'd made a bet on game seven that the score would we 7-3 and wouldn't I hope the Red Sox scored that third run so she'd win her bet, I said no, I wanted the score to remain lower. Oh my, the arrogance of youth!

That was the team of Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Curt Flood, Orlando Cepeda and—I nearly always forget—of Roger Maris. A later iteration of the team included Willie McGee, who threw the ball out last night, a symbolic act that Fox chose not to carry. Sangha showed me this morning: the highlights from McGee's 1982 Series, when McGee and I were rookies (I in grad school), and then the rather older, but still very thin man walking to the mound and quietly lobbing the ball to Ozzie Smith, sporting a bright red jacket. Somehow my loyalty to this team has stayed with me, has strengthened. “Oh, it's an identity issue, is it?” Leonard Schwartz once put it to me. Yes, the nostalgia of origins—the nostalgia I generally am extremely skeptical of—has its place in me, too. When I'm asked what my home town is now, I sometimes say “Busch Stadium.” Whichever stadium happens to be there . . . I wrote more about my fandom, edited for that issue by Tim Denevi, a great baseball guy.

From attachment to connection: my (pre-)husband became a baseball fan the first time I took him to a UH game and he realized he could drink beer and talk to people. He's evolved into a maniacal Cardinals fan, though he won't admit it publically. Our son, Sangha (named for the spiritual community and—as it turns out—for being “handsome,” which is what the word means in Khmer), rivals me in his intensity about the Cardinals. At 14, he is not always patient with his parents; yesterday, when Bryant and I commented that Holliday had made a very dumb base-running play, he got angry with us, accused us of “hating on Holliday.” Another moment of judgment, another moment of being reminded that Holliday is one of our best players in this Series. When the Cardinals were playing game five against the Pirates the other week, I couldn't find the game anywhere (I do not have a smart phone). It was not on the radio (which was carrying a talk show about our hapless football team), nor could I use the orthodontist's wifi, as I waited for my daughter to get her bands tightened. So I called home on my rather prehistoric cell phone, and Sangha called the game for me. When Radhika and I got into the car to drive home I put the speaker on and Sangha kept calling the game for me. The 45 minute ride home brought home to me the ways in which we create sanghas of a sort around this game.

My other baseball community is on-line. Several years ago, after starting to collect writers who are also Cards fans at AWPs here and there (Aaron Belz and I found Kyle Semmel in Austin first by wearing our caps at the Tinfish table), I launched a Cardinals Hui (or group, in Hawaiian) on facebook. This time of year the Hui is very busy, sharing articles, photos, laments (the media hates our team!), predictions (one among us, Harold Anderson, called a walk two pitches before it happened during one game, and now gets frequent questions about “the future”), and play by play commentary. Community also rules in Hawai`i's baseball world; for the first time ever, there are two Hawaiian players in the Series, Shane Victorino, who got the Sox in with a grand slam, and Kolten Wong, who has been terrible since coming up in August for the Cardinals. But last night—oh my!--he had a great play in the field and he got a strong single to left. I'm hoping all those Sox fans here noticed.

On 10/27/13 4:05 AM, Tony Trigilio wrote:

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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