Friday, November 1, 2013

An Out of Order Tony Trigilio contribution to our dialogue on Spirit & the World Series

 The World Series is over, so what is "order," anyway?

Hi Susan--

As you say, regarding Game 3’s final play, motivation means everything in Buddhism and nothing in Major League Baseball’s rule book.  No place for karmic intent.  Game 3 will always end with Middlebrooks as the rule book’s archetypal infielder who “dives at a ground ball and the ball passes him and he continues to lie on the ground.”  Game 4 will always end, too, with Kolten Wong—whom Sox fans in Hawaii definitely are noticing now—continuing to lie on the ground after Mike Napoli’s sweep tag on his arm.  Saturday, we were treated to the first World Series game to end with a walk-off obstruction call; Sunday, we saw the first World Series game to end with a pick-off.  Tonight’s game should end with David Lynch on the pitcher’s mound describing his Quinoa recipe. 

Everything’s tied—the series, 2-2, and the number of strange walk-off endings, 1-1.  Fitting, I agree, to talk about how attachment leads to connection.  I’m fascinated by the communal ties that are created by baseball fandom.  Your Cardinals Hui sounds like a real joy—the equivalent of finding a Cardinals’ fan bar where you live, but without having to deal with the clangy-loud “bar” aspect of it all.  During the 2004 and 2007 World Series, I rent my garments with other Sox fans on electronic bulletin boards, and this helped share the communal angst.  But very few folks on these boards were actually writers by profession.  I think it’d be therapeutic, for instance, to complain about AWP between innings.  If I see Saltalamacchia behind the plate tonight, I’ll get that feeling of first looking into the new AWP Conference Program every year and recognizing endless variations of the same panels I avoided the previous year.

The community is now happening for me through text and email—of course, in our exchanges on your blog, but also in the electronic messages I’m getting from friends around the country, not all Sox fans, sending notes of encouragement or, just as often, sending texts with the words “Salty” and “third base” in the same sentence just to see what kind of apoplectic reply they’ll get from me.  Yesterday, I texted the URL of our dialogue to an old friend, a journalist who enjoys sports but has no emotional attachments to baseball teams.  He replied: “Oh, the angst.  Forget about you and your friend with all your tributes to the serenity of baseball.  It’s like fandom everywhere—pure unadulterated angst.”  I texted him back in the middle of Sunday’s game.  First reply: “I agree re: angst . . . then Gomes comes up w/runners on 1st & 2nd, and I start freaking out.”  I didn’t have much time to reflect on the panic, though.  As I was writing the text, Gomes hit the three-run homer that eventually won the game.  I know that we can’t get into much emotional and intellectual nuance in a text message, but I was trying to understand the boundary between serenity and angst—a boundary so important to everything you and I have been writing during the World series—and before I could form a sensible sentence in my head, Gomes walloped Maness’s hanging sinker. 

The stress never quite went away, though.  To stay within myself—this is my new koan, by the way, to stay within myself—I read student work between innings last night.  This brought back Fenway nostalgia for me, countless memories of walking to the ballpark after my late-afternoon class and buying a bleacher ticket (such an innocent time, when ordinary folk without corporate bar codes tattooed on their foreheads could just walk up to the ticket window and buy one for less than $10).  I’d take my backpack into the game, find a good seat in the bleachers and, along with other grievance-collecting Sox fans, bask in our communal anxieties.  Between innings, I’d relax by grading my students’ composition and technical writing essays.  I usually could finish two or three long essays during the course of a nine-inning game.  Strange to think that the mediocre Sox teams of the mid-1990s could produce anxiety, but you know how it is, once you’re at the ballpark, you feed off each other’s catastrophizing, even when we knew that beyond Roger Clemens, Mo Vaughn, and John Valentin, the team was mostly a bore.

These questions of community—virtual and real—are a part of how I became a Sox fan.  I didn’t spend my childhood in Boston, and I agree with Leonard Schwartz that our baseball partisanship “is an identity issue” more than a question of the cities we live in.  I actually spent part of my childhood as a Mets fan.  You can imagine how this made the 1986 World Series utterly debilitating for me, since, by then, I followed the Sox fanatically.  One of my brothers (I’m the youngest) used to hit me every time I rooted against the Mets.  I had a great impetus as a child, then, to wish the Mets all the success in the world, and to do so loudly in front of my brother.  After a time, I developed a version of Stockholm Syndrome, adopting the Mets full-bore as my team.  As I started to play baseball myself, and to gravitate toward pitching, Tom Seaver became an unequivocal hero.  But the whole time, I was secretly interested in the Red Sox.  Everything they did was unorthodox.  Their asymmetrical stadium was reflected in quirky personalities like Bill Lee and Luis Tiant—much of this coming to my knowledge during the riveting 1975 World Series, which made televised baseball feel as important to me as rock concerts.  Once the Mets traded Seaver to the Reds (an organization that forbade its players from wearing long hair or facial hair—I think Bill Lee once called this rule “fascist,” which only endeared him more to me), I expressed my Sox fandom more openly.  By then, the brother who used to hit me was nearly 20 and didn’t care much for baseball anymore.  He wasn’t going to punch my shoulder if I rooted for another team.  My oldest brother was a Yankees’ fan.  Rooting for the Sox, then, was a perfect metaphor for the unstable communities of my childhood: one brother used to hit me if I rooted against his team, and my other brother was stereotypically loud and brash in his allegiance to my team’s Satanic Majesty enemy, the nefarious Yanquis.  Thank goodness my mother hated Nixon and Reagan, or I would’ve been even lonelier growing up.

I loved how you put it—that “we create sanghas of a sort around this game.”  Our partisan ties to ballclubs are only barely geographic, I think.  This seems a self-evident statement; yet most people I talk with are surprised that I spent my childhood in Pennsylvania but wasn’t a Pirates or Phillies fan.  But these teams did nothing for me—and I found their artificial-turf ballparks repugnant.  The Sox of the ‘70s possessed an aesthetic, I guess, that appealed to me as much as their strange ballpark did.  I never could’ve rooted for, say, Sparky Anderson’s close-shaven Reds, who ran to first base on ball four and who played All-Star exhibition games like they were the seventh game of the World Series.  (I detested Pete Rose, who always reminded me of the uncle who wanted me to take up boxing as a way to get tougher, when I just wanted to read books and play in bands.  Ironically, this uncle was a Sox fan.) My affinities were with pitchers like El Tiante, turning his back to the batter during his windup, and Bill Lee, who once said, “Sparky Anderson says Don Gullett is going to the Hall of Fame after the World Series. I'm going to the Eliot Lounge.”

My initial fandom began with connection—an effort to connect with quirky players, once I didn’t have to worry about my brother hitting me, and once the Mets yanked Seaver from my life—but then it grew into attachment.  I want to find my way back from attachment to connection.  I don’t know if it’s possible.  It might be easier if David Ross starts tonight instead of Saltalamacchia, or if every time Saltalamacchia looks like he’s about to throw to third, Farrell would shout, “Why don’t you pass the time by playing a little Solitaire,” and, like a good Manchurian Candidate, Salty would hold on to the ball, let the runner slide into third, and trust his pitching staff to get out of the inning.


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