Thursday, October 31, 2013

Spirit & World Series: Dialogue with Tony Trigilio, Instance #4

Here is the utility room off the main English department office in Kuykendall Hall, where I've spent many hours--days--during the months of October in recent years. It's the only place I can find a television to myself; oddly, there's cable in this room. In the foreground, you can see my iPad (with red keyboard), this year's addition to the arsenal of the fan. I use it to talk to the Cardinals Hui on facebook before, during, and after games. Occasionally, the department secretary will come in for a visit. She's a Dodgers fan who is now rooting for the Red Sox--as indeed everyone seems to be. Yesterday, the husband of a colleague came in to use one of the hand trucks and managed to say "go Red Sox" on his way out.

I confess to a feeling of dispiritedness today. It's been a long October of adrenaline and the end seems near, probably not the ending I wanted, but the end nevertheless. Of course baseball's history is at once linear and cyclical, but right now I'm feeling the blunt linearity of it. My Cardinals, who won so many games because they hit consistently with runners in scoring position (the lovely acronym is RISP), now strike out more than they hit. Hot hitters like Matt Carpenter have been tamed. Our best hitter, Allen Craig, when he plays, is operating on one foot as the other was injured two months ago.  The bottom of our order (Jay, Kozma, the pitcher) is mostly hapless. In the meantime, we're watching one of the greatest displays of post-season hitting ever. David Ortiz fails ever to not make contact with the ball, and his World Series batting average soars over .700. Why we don't walk him every time, I don't know. But that's simply another of the mysteries of this series; our second year manager has made some odd decisions, as has your new manager.

But back to spiritual practice, if I can muster some detachment for a moment. The day before last, the game ended with the Cardinals down by two runs, a man on first (Allen Craig had a double, but could only hobble as far as first, was then replaced by the speedy Kolten Wong), and Carlos Beltran up. If anyone can reproduce the miracles of 2011 for us (those of Berkman and Freese), it would be Beltran, despite his rib injury. The camera was on the field when suddenly the Red Sox started leaping in the air and Carlos Beltran's face turned ashen, angry. Kolten Wong, leaning the wrong way, had been picked off first by Koji Uehara. Wong slammed his helmet into the ground, the game over. No guarantees that Beltran would have hit the ball, but the rookie's mistake took the prospect of a perfect ending away from us. (No, fb friend David Kellogg, this was not "karma" from the interference call.)

Several minutes later, a tweet came over my transom from Viva el birdos, a website clearly run by literary folk: "Mike Matheny is a big believer in getting guys right back on the field, which is why Kolten Wong will pitch to David Ortiz tomorrow." I laughed. Someone on that feed also advised us not to send tweets to Wong ourselves and provided a link to a John Cheever story, scanned at an angle, about a character's catastrophic turn (I didn't read it, just gleaned something of the poster's intent). But then when Wong tweeted an apology for his mistake to #CardinalNation, I did respond, in brief, to say we were still at 2-2, it was ok. It's not like he was the only Cardinal who'd made a mistake in the game.

I felt a tonglen moment over Wong, easier because I feel like I know the guy. I don't, but he went to my university for three years and I'm sure I saw him play baseball here. He looks like one of my students, and his earnest apology reflected what's best about Hawai`i, a sense of community that includes a responsibility to represent the best in it. He clearly was feeling his kuleana, and that he'd not lived up to it. Wong is a Hilo kid, from an outer island, small town, suddenly thrust on the large stage.  He'd just had his first good game in a long while, getting a hit and making a fantastic play in the field the night before. To make that last out on such a mistake was devastating. Reports had it that he was crying in the clubhouse. These are not the actions of a hardened professional athlete (like the older Shane Victorino, also once an outer island kid, possessed of a harder attitude), but of a young man who's feeling his private way onto this public stage.

In Tonglen practice, which I understand more than I practice (like so much in this spiritual field), you breathe in someone else's pain and release it. I could do that for Wong by the end of the evening, but of course the true practice would demand that I do it for members of the Red Sox and their fans, including the Johnny come lately's. Hahd fo do. Why do I find myself respecting only those Red Sox fans who have suffered (the pre-2004s, in other words)? What is it about suffering that garners my respect, when sheer joy does not? Why did I and my friends instinctively trust the Khmer Rouge survivor who spoke to our honors class in memory & forgetting, when we often do not trust ourselves? (Admittedly, I've jumped from the trivial to the truly awful here). Why do I trust my own suffering more than my own joy? I wonder. And why does this trivial space of baseball remind me of those times, as if the trivial were simply a spur to memories of what really mattered?

For what is a career in baseball fandom except a career in memory? I remember sitting in front of some older colleagues in 1988 (I think it was) when the Cardinals played the Padres at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu (the Padres stadium was under repair so they repaired here). These colleagues were talking story about their lives; this was true oral history unfolding. But they were telling their lives through baseball: the games they'd seen; their dads watching, one having a stroke during a game (as I recall); the catastrophe for that colleague when the Dodgers left Brooklyn and he lost the will to cheer for any particular team ever again. Their memories were layered--as I advise my writing students to bring subjects together via compressed metaphor--so that they were telling at least two stories at once. And now I find what I barely remembered, the 1991 review of The Baseball Encyclopedia by one of these former colleagues, Arnold Edelstein, the one whose father had a stroke during a game. He writes: "The numbers can provide unexpected dividends for biography if we can picture the readers of the Encyclopedia using them not as signs of the players or teams but as Proustian reminders of particular days within the general recurrence of the years." (Biography, vol. 14, no. 3, Summer 1991, 273), available through Project Muse.)

I am so enjoying this exchange, Tony, that I hope this Series goes to 11 games. And it's the layering that matters to me, the way in which baseball is not "just a sport," as so many in our intellectual tribe would have it, but a filtering system for living a life in the moment and then contemplating it for many thousands of moments after. I think I might have some time for my pillow this morning, so over and out for now. Thanks, as ever, for your perceptions. And, because I so admired your cat Shimmy, I'll now post a photo of our cat Tortilla, lying on a rally towel. The photo credit goes to my son, Sangha.

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