Situational Essay: Jason Heyward Jars These Mountains

Bryan Harvey, contributor of the thought-provoking Situational Essay below, is a high school teacher and poet, who writes for The Faster Times and The Lawn Chair Boys. His poetry has appeared in the Cold Mountain Review and DeckFight Press is releasing his eBook this Friday, Everything That Dunks Must Converge.

My Southern blood told me it was too cold for baseball. The gray clouds and crisp air set a mood more in tune with the gridiron than the baseball diamond. Then the gray clouds turned to black and rocks started to fall from the sky: it was hailing.

The game was in the bottom of the fourth and the Braves were down four to one. Winter was not yet over in the nation’s capitol. The players still stood on the field like statues; they didn’t take one step toward either dugout. They stared intently at the pitcher’s mound, the batter’s box, and the umpire, stubbornly insisting on playing this game of summer through the forty degree weather that now sent fans running for cover, in hoods and coats and scarves, begging concession workers for coffee, hot chocolate, and chili.

My fiancee, bundled up in her hood like a Gloworm, tugged at my hand, but I didn’t want to leave our seats just yet. I wanted to watch Jason Heyward blow pink bubbles of gum in a dark hail storm, his brim pulled down low, his legs crouched for the next play. He looked like he had a balloon in his mouth. The sight was mesmerizing. It made you wish that he was at bat, mocking the pitcher with an act of pure youthfulness.

…the ferocity of his swing, cutting through the humidity, will have already remodeled the plains of our imaginations into deep valleys and sharp mountains

But he wasn’t. He was in right field, far from the batter’s box, far from the action, far from one of his iconic Opening Day home runs. But still he was the most intriguing individual on the field. It was like seeing folk hero John Henry channeling his mythic determination and perseverance into brushing his teeth or clipping his toenails, rather than hammering down railroad spikes: the ordinary appeared extraordinary. Standing in a green field became inspirational. I realized that legends commit to every moment, even the moments that don’t matter in any measurable way, when nobody (besides an obsessed fan) is watching.

A few years ago during a weather delay, my eyes would have studied my boyhood baseball hero, Chipper Jones, but my interest in him has been eclipsed by the possibilities that rest in a twenty-one year old. What’s so exciting about Jason Heyward is that no one knows what is to become of him: no one knows whether the steam engine will kill him or if he will tame the great American wilderness.

Chipper Jones, on the other hand, is a finished book, or an epic movie that has been syndicated on cable television. Number ten is Red from Shawshank Redemption, biding his time, protecting and hoping, while number twenty-two is Andy Dufresne, illuminating a drab world so that he can find a way out of it. Cold beers on a hot rooftop, we want him to stay in prison so that he can continue to inspire us with his physical presence. But it’s just as possible that Heyward will disappear from the game tomorrow through any of baseball’s proverbial sewer pipes, without saying a word, leaving us to question the spiritual significance of athletic talent not fully realized, leaving us to wonder what worlds exist beyond an outfield wall, or a prisonyard.

So often the legends of tall tales lose out to the machines of the world. John Henry suffers a heart attack. Pecos Bill watches his true love grow as distant as the moon. Mighty Casey strikes out. Bobby Cox doesn’t bring home the World Series. Jason Heyward loses the division to the Phillies, or in the Playoffs to the Giants.

On a day when it was too cold for baseball, he lost to the lowly Nationals, too. But it was not in vain. No matter what happens in his career, from here on out, Jason Heyward’s presence did change us. His Braves may never win a World Series, much less the NL East, but the ferocity of his swing, cutting through the humidity, will have already remodeled the plains of our imaginations into deep valleys and sharp mountains. I say this because I’ve already seen it happen. I’ve seen him blow a pink bubble in the middle of a hail storm, while the crowd ran, ducking, up the aisles towards cover, and the ground’s crew unrolled the tarp.

And afterwards, the hood was pulled back, and the yellow bubble of the sun shined over everything, even Atlanta’s six to three loss against the Nationals.

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