Sam Fuld: Learning the Legend

I don’t know where I first heard about Sam Fuld. I can’t recall whether it was a Jonah Keri tweet that alerted me to the remarkable feats of the 29-year-old out of Phillips Exeter Academy and Stanford via Durham, New Hampshire, or if it was a TV highlight package, or one of the blog essays or comments that have sung his praises in the last few weeks. I don’t know who planted the story’s seed in my mind, where it has since taken root and grown, bearing fruit in the form of a question, a yearning that is somehow also a signal of communal upswell: “Who is Sam Fuld?”

Fuld runs, flies, throws, hits, thinks, speaks with the power of myth already, strengthened by his relative obscurity. I, for one, don’t watch him play regularly, so all I see or hear about him are the feats and marvels in past tense. Fuld’s is a story that so far relies only on stories, without the daily truths that can chip away at myth’s sculpture.

When it comes to a phenomenon like Fuld, which seemed to materialize within a day or two, there’s a drive to find its nascent moments, when the early adopters recognized the novelty and the charm of what they were witnessing. The adopters not only realized the potential; they also spread the word among their local friends and within the greatest circle of friends the world has ever known, the Internet, and not necessarily in that order. Sam Fuld may have stumbled fearlessly into the bullpen while making a catch, and flung himself through the air to save three runs on a deep fly ball, but it was the ones who told the Fuld story, through enthusiastic tweets and posts, that stimulated their fellow fans’ imaginations and spread it. The myth is in the telling more than it is in the doing, and Sam Fuld got told by some influential tellers.

From the springboard moments when the enthusiasm of the fresh discovery of something new pumps adrenalin through the veins, the legend flowers. Others join in the mirth. The room fills with the aroma of the remarkable (for me that smell is that of a sausage with onions outside of Fenway, I don’t know what it is for you). Fuld makes another catch, and a moment becomes a trend. More twitter drops, more stories emerge. Each game is a new opportunity for us to watch, to nail another talisman to the wall to mark the improbable continuation of a blessing.

A single is just a single until it’s Dimaggio’s single for the 56th game in a row.

In Fuld, we sense something of ourselves. He has walked both sides. Probability suggests that he’ll be walking on our side again soon enough, but providence buoys him for the moment.

Like Werner Herzog sailing down to Antarctica or filming the oldest cave paintings in history, I want to be an archaeologist of the human condition, trolling along the obscure edges of my own personal history. But I’m not willing to scour my browser’s history for the first few moments that the Fuld story formed. It’s a load of work to find the making of a myth, and it’s a futile business, to boot.

In the past, it was simple and perhaps more important-seeming to trace the origins of origin. “A traveling salesman passing through town told me about Sam Fuld at Smitty’s Bar” or “My father worked with a man who used to tell stories about Sam Fuld.” If not to identify, then to at least put narrative to the origins of a story. The way the information was delivered was sewn into the legend itself. Now, of course, the beginning isn’t as important as the sheer accumulation of data. Fuld’s catches, his biography, his steals and hits don’t matter in the string of narrative that mark beginning, middle, and end. They are important in the aggregate. The myth of today, like slot machine winnings, is a pile.

What’s lost is the pleasure of the telling. It’s hard to tell Sam Fuld’s story. There isn’t a narrative path to follow yet, but rather a disparate-seeming collection of ephemera. “Fuld went to some good schools, learned a thing or two, then he made a catch, then he made another catch. He still plays baseball.” How do you convey that to another human without just sending a link to the Twitteratti’s collective tellings, along with a sampling of video clips and transactional histories? A well-worn phrase with new applications in this field of techno-myth: the fragmented narrative.

But then again there’s this word “legend” in use concerning Fuld. I’m the one who pulled the word “myth” in on the conversation. A “legend” might be more applicable to a Fuld situation. Dictionary.com defines the term legend in several applicable ways: “1. a nonhistorical or unverifiable story handed down by tradition from earlier times and popularly accepted as historical. 2. the body of stories of this kind, especially as they relate to a particular people, group, or clan.” The body of stories is a concept that resonates, as it refers to the collection of stories rather than a single dominant story.

When I think of a body of stories that comprise a legend, Davy Crockett and Paul Bunyan come to mind. I know a smattering of facts about each without any particular awareness of a linear narrative that surrounds them. For example, Bunyan is really big, and his friend is a big blue ox. Come to think of it, that’s all I can remember. Davy Crockett killed a bear when he was three, and he patched up a crack in the Liberty Bell. I don’t know the story of his life, just a few juicy details.

The same is true of Sam Fuld, and his legend. The bullet points are lively, and unlikely. Where it came from has little to do with where it is. The act of telling, whether the tellings are truth or lively fictions conjured in the heat of the moment is irrelevant. What’s important is the telling, and that goes on. There’s a hint of Chuck Norris in the fantastical tweets, a stitch of Moses in the sense of delayed gratification and the virtues of patience, and a smidge of Moneyball in the stoutness of Fuld’s secondary stats, and his self-awareness and poise. Add it all together, and what do you get? Who knows, but I’m looking forward to the telling.

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2 Responses to Sam Fuld: Learning the Legend

  1. Steve Balboni says:

    May I paraphrase Edgar Allen?

    Sam Fuld, it surely is most fit
    [Logic and common usage so commanding]
    In thy own book that first thy name be writ,
    Zeno and other sages notwithstanding;
    And I have other reasons for so doing
    Besides my innate love of contradiction;
    Each poet – if a poet – in pursuing
    The muses thro’ their bowers of Truth or Fiction,
    Has studied very little of his part,
    Read nothing, written less – in short’s a fool
    Endued with neither soul, nor sense, nor art,
    Being ignorant of one important rule,
    Employed in even the theses of the school -
    Called – I forget the heathenish Greek name
    [Called anything, its meaning is the same]
    “Always write first things uppermost in the heart.”

  2. Here’s a short video that can help fill in some of your questions about Paul Bunyon… http://www.twincities.com/sports/ci_17865828?source=rss